Freud’s Daughter – The Brooklyn Rail
May 21 – September 12, 2021
“” It all comes down to what the artist experiences at this level making death life “” – Louise Bourgeois, handwritten note, ca. 1964
Much has been written and said about Louise Bourgeois, one of the few American artists whose name is well known not only in the art world, but also among the general public. Still Louise Bourgeois, daughter of Freud, currently on display at the Jewish Museum, presents a multitude of new materials – in addition to 40 of his sculptures, works on paper, reliefs and paintings – that make us look at his art from an unexpected angle. This new perspective is made possible by the posthumous discovery of a large cache later known as “psychoanalytic writings” – a collection of texts that the artist typed or handwritten during his psychoanalytic treatment of ‘about 30 years old. These notes were written for the most part between 1952 and 1966 during a particularly intensive period of his processing and provide a refreshing and candid picture of the artist’s struggle in his search for a subjective truth about his inner world and its realities. Interestingly, Bourgeois turned to artistic creation after his mother’s death and to intensive psychoanalytic treatment after his father’s death, making these two occupations a personal quest to rebuild himself after these devastating losses: “I am a collection of wooden beads. never put on – and perfectly silly, ”she wrote in 1957, five years after the start of her analysis.
Bourgeois’ verve and determination to move forward in this direction are evident in an extraordinary typed note dated December 3, 1951, nearly a month before the start of his analysis. In this note, she wrote about a dream from her mother stating that this dream made her “very tired” and determined to “reach” her “secret”. It also made her very anxious, as she knew she was “not going to make it,” at least on her own. Her husband was the only one who could help her understand the meaning of the dream, but he was numb, sleepy, impossible to wake up even by her pounding her fists on her chest. Meanwhile, her desperate and “superhuman” effort to reach her mother, who was slipping away, ended with a “climax and satisfaction in a long kiss”. The artist was “surprised” to realize that she “wanted” this kiss, which left “an object like an almond” in her mouth, transmitted to her through her mother’s mouth. The object was very hard, maybe even harder than marble, and the artist thought that “maybe it was a form of truth”, that she was not equipped to break: “You know so little, she said to herself, you have tried everything you can to learn to read around you.
Given the timing of this note and Bourgeois ‘indelible urge to “learn to read around her”, it is tempting to think that this dream foreshadowed Bourgeois’ decision to begin psychoanalytic treatment the following month. As could be deduced from the dream, Bourgeois’ mother was the main object of his bottomless curiosity, with the figure of the father (alternatively, her husband, his analyst and Sigmund Freud himself) as the helper to get to the source of the mystery, was transmitted to him by his mother. Indeed, his relationship to psychoanalysis was conflicting to say the least. As Philip Larratt-Smith, the curator of the exhibition, noted, Bourgeois “distrusted words and did not believe in healing through words.”
Looking at the exhibition, it seems clear that the artist communicated her truth through the visually expressive language of her art – mimicry, material, texture, color, size – which often has a strong visceral impact on us. His “psychoanalytic writings” are captivating, but they do not carry his weight as an artist. Even though Bourgeois accused Freud of “not understanding the creative artist”, she continued the treatment for three decades and also wrote about him “as a healer, … a very powerful person …”. Juliet Mitchell’s insightful catalog essay helps us understand this split, explaining that “by carrying his art into his therapy, Bourgeois introduces the actively sexual girl into psychoanalysis – where, so far, in his theory at least. , it is still absent ”. We can witness this non-conformist sexuality not only in the explicit nature of Bourgeois imagery – as in the Net (1968), for example, or in a gender mix Couple III (1997), a sculpture in which a loving couple merges into a dark and imposing mass. While convincing, Mitchell’s argument is somewhat at odds with Bourgeois’s own critique of Freud as a powerful healer who nevertheless failed to help artists of any genre. Perhaps the root of the problem is that Freud saw art as a spectator and not as a creator.
It seems that Bourgeois found fault with Freud’s understanding of aesthetics, which was largely limited to his theory of sublimation. In short, this theory postulated that a person’s libido did not find satisfaction in a sexual goal and redirected their energy towards a culturally valued pursuit. This rather clear-cut conception of artistic creativity tends to separate emotion from reason, and to leave art and psychoanalysis on two tracks which never intersect. This hardly applies to Bourgeois, whose most famous creations are not beautiful in the conventional sense of the term, but exude violence, primitive rawness and transgressive sexual power. In his catalog essay, Mitchell goes on to stress the primacy of the body in Bourgeois’ art by quoting the artist: “For me, sculpture is the body. My body is sculpture. Mitchell also reminds us of the centrality of the bodily ego to Freud and, therefore, that therapy only makes sense when it is experienced emotionally by being ‘felt in … the body’. In this sense, the aesthetic conflict for Bourgeois is best understood not through the process of sublimation, but rather through his attempt to reconcile what a Kleinian psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer called the “invading exterior” of the body of the artist and his “enigmatic interior”, in his book co-written with Meg Harris Williams, The apprehension of beauty: the role of aesthetic conflict in development, art and violence. This conflict is both aesthetic – in that it tries to strike a balance between ideal beauty and perceived ugliness – and psychoanalytic – with an emphasis on the artist’s inner world and his “objects” (fantasies). unconscious, ideas, identifications).
Looking at the exhibition from the point of view of this “fundamental aesthetic conflict”, one becomes aware of Bourgeois’ tenacious attempt to “transform hatred into love”, as she so aptly proclaimed. This transformation appears to us as a redemptive process consisting in finding a form to speak one’s inner truth, to make oneself understood. If, as Bourgeois admitted, the resistance of matter made her feel that she was failing in this endeavor, then perhaps her engagement with psychoanalysis was an effort to save herself from this disturbing situation.