“One must acknowledge the debt of the impact Sigmund Freud’s own creative production has had on the culture of modernity and, as a result, its own capacity of self-reflection,” artist Joseph Kosuth wrote in 1989. As can be seen in Kosuth’s curated exhibition of works from Vienna’s Belvedere Museum and Sigmund Freud Museum Contemporary Art Collection, just as language acquired new meaning after Freud, so did art.
Kosuth’s 1980s works referring to the father of psychoanalysis anchor the exhibition, in which each of the artworks alludes to, or critiques, some aspect of Freud’s theories about unconscious functioning. In a series of galleries, pieces by a range of artists, including Birgit Jürgenssen, Douglas Gordon, and Mike Kelley, are set against Kosuth’s installation Zero & Not (1986). Consisting of passages taken from Freud’s writings printed as wallpaper and then obscured with black tape, it serves as a key to the rest of the show.
Elsewhere, the exhibition presents a succession of atmospheres. One arrangement juxtaposes photographer Francesca Woodman’s blurred and intermittently revealing self-portraits with Cindy Sherman’s images of herself enacting variously overt and repressed feminine constructs to jarring effect. Fetishism turns up in Markus Schinwald’s film Dictio Pii (2001), while Ilya Kabakov’s installation The Man Who Flew into His Picture (1987–89) details the fantasies of a fictional office worker.
One of the few direct references to Freud, the historical figure, other than Franz West’s metal version of his famous couch, is an installation by the duo Clegg & Guttmann that reconstructs, through replicas, his library, broken up in 1938. For the most part though, the connection (and the real pleasure of the show) lies in the artists’ diverse responses to his ideas.
A version of this story originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 93.