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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Controversial Freud Show Must Go On




When the exhibit was first conceived in 1995, critics charged that the advisory committee was stacked with Freud sympathizers.


A major exhibition on Sigmund Freud at the Library of Congress that was postponed in 1995 after budget cuts and protests by critics -- including Freud's granddaughter, Sophie, who charged that it was too favorable to the founder of psychoanalysis -- is finally set to open Oct. 15.


"Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture'' will open under the same title, but it has been modified somewhat in response to criticism, curator Michael Roth said last week.


"It will show Freud's contested legacy,'' Roth said. "But it will show that Freud was responding to issues that remain vital today, such as explosive violence, and the fact that people remain deeply troubled even though they have the capacity for satisfaction in love and work.''


A major emphasis throughout, Roth said, will be Freud's impact on popular culture. The exhibition, he said, will feature 150 objects drawn from the library's vast Freud archives, the biggest in the world. They will include a reproduction of Freud's analysis couch and a painting by Freud's most famous patient, the Wolf Man, depicting his dream of wolves sitting in a tree outside his window. Also included will be photographs, manuscripts and letters, including a little-known letter from Freud to the mother of a homosexual, which the library has borrowed from the Kinsey Institute.


"Homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of,'' wrote Freud, often seen as condemning homosexuality. "Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals.''


The show continues at the Library of Congress until Jan. 16 and then travels to the Jewish Museum in New York and to Los Angeles and Vienna.


In conjunction with the exhibition, Alfred A. Knopf is publishing a catalog, actually a collection of essays edited by Roth, some of them written by scholars who originally signed a petition against the museum exhibition. They contended that the Freud show would validate psychological practices that have no scientific merit.


Criticism began before the exhibition, originally planned for 1995, was even mounted. Peter Swales, an independent scholar who has written that Freud had an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, organized the petition, which was signed by 42 writers and scholars.


The literary critic Frederick Crews called it an effort "to polish the tarnished image of a business that's heading into Chapter 11.'' Sophie Freud, Freud's granddaughter, said she was protesting the show because "some of my grandfather's ideas have become obsolete.''


The critics charged that the exhibition's advisory committee had been stacked with Freud sympathizers and that the accompanying catalog was to have essays written only by Freud partisans.


Roth, who is associate director of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, denies being a Freud partisan. "What's uncomfortable for them is I'm in neither camp,'' he said. Still, Roth said he had taken the criticisms into account. "The protests gave me a chance to think about it,'' he said of the exhibition. "It has evolved, gone through various permutations. Modifications have been made.''


The Freud exhibition will be divided into three parts, the last of which ends with a rarely heard BBC recording of Freud speaking in English. "I started my professional activity as a neurologist trying to bring release to my neurotic patients,'' Freud tells the interviewer. "I discovered some new and important facts about the unconscious in psychic life, the role of instinctual urges and so on.''


The founder of psychoanalysis continues: "Resistance was strong and unrelenting. In the end, I succeeded in acquiring pupils and building up an international psychoanalytic association. But the struggle is not yet over. My name is Sigmund Freud.''


The exhibit's first part, "Historical/Biographical,'' will begin with Freud's formative years and include items from his medical training.


There are also family photographs, including one of Freud's mother, which Roth considered especially important. "He was a man who spent a lot of his professional life writing about his desire to have sex with his mother,'' Roth said. "He visited her every day, and when she died, his reaction was that now he was free to die. He couldn't do this to his mother while she was still alive.''


The second section, "The Conscious and the Unconscious,'' will deal with Freud's theories and how he used them to treat patients.


To illustrate repression, there will be a clip from a television show, "The Simpsons.'' "Lisa,'' Homer Simpson says to his daughter, "the important thing is for your mother to repress what happened, push it deep down inside her so she'll never annoy us again.''


The third section of the exhibition, "From Psyche to Civilization,'' will demonstrate the connection between Freud's ideas and the wider society, including his theories on the origins of civilization. Some of this section will be devoted to those who broke away from Freud, like Jung and Adler.