Louise Bourgeois Love Affair With Freudian Psychoanalysis

A new exhibition at The Freud Museum examines Louise Bourgeois’ complex and ambivalent relationship with psychoanalysis. The show is called Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed and contains her recently discovered psychoanalytic writings, alongside corresponding artworks.

These newly unearthed documents are the product of her foray into psychoanalysis spanning three decades. Two boxes of writings were discovered by her longtime assistant Jerry Gorovoy at the beginning of 2004, and two more in early 2010. These constitute an archive of over one thousand loose sheets recording her reactions to her psychoanalytic treatment from 1951; several texts refer directly to Dr. Henry Lowenfeld, whom she saw from 1952 to 1982. In some cases these texts complement existing diaries that she kept throughout her life, while in others they serve to fill in the gaps for those years in which she did not keep a diary.

Bourgeois believed that art could operate as a parallel ‘form of psychoanalysis’, in the way in which it mined the depths of the unconsciousness, and provided a psychological outlet: ‘Art is a guarantee of sanity’, she said. Bourgeois was highly knowledgeable about psychoanalytic concepts, and it is widely known that this type of mystical scientism informed much of her work – as it did with Kandinsky, Mondrian, and the other great Modernist artists. But this exhibition, taking place in the house of the founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, ultimately draws out her fundamental distance from – despite deep engagement with – the theory and practice of the ‘talking cure’.

‘The truth is that Freud did nothing for artists, or for the artist’s problem, the artist’s torment,’ wrote Louise Bourgeois, even suggesting an inherent incompatibility between the two processes, the creative and the psychoanalytic: ‘to be an artist involves some suffering. That’s why artists repeat themselves – because they have no access to a cure.’ This is no great heresy, as Freud himself would admit that ‘before the problem of the creative artist, psychoanalysis must lay down its arms.’

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and lived in the United States from 1938 until her death in 2010. She became one of the best known artists of the 20th century, whose work has inspired a rich commentary from academics and critics alike.  The exhibition will raise fundamental questions about the relationship between art and life, and the therapeutic nature of art itself. To curator Larratt-Smith, who has served as the literary archivist of the Louise Bourgeois Archives since 2002: ‘The discovery of the psychoanalytic writings has enriched and augmented our understanding of Bourgeois’s work and life immeasurably. They represent a distinct contribution to art history as well as to the field of psychoanalysis.’ The exhibition foregrounds the importance of these writings, displaying nearly fifty original manuscripts for the first time and ranging from sketches, notes, dream recordings, lists and drawings.

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