The Sigmund Freud Antiquities: Fragments from a Buried Past

April 19–June 17, 1990

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent a lifetime amassing a collection of antiquities, namely vases, fragments of sculpture, and figurines. He repeatedly compared archaeology to the study of the human psyche, which according to his method, had to be excavated layer by layer until the deepest and most trenchant elements were unearthed and reconstituted as subjects of examination.

His collection remained dear to him throughout his life, and when he fled Vienna at the onset of World War II, he managed to have the entire collection spirited away to his home in exile in London. A favorite of his pieces was a figurine of Athena, though without her typical attributes of the spear and aegis – a shield with the snaky-haired head of the gorgon, Medusa on it. The decapitated head of Medusa symbolized castration, though the fearsome act was mitigated by the appearance of the snakes, symbols of and replacements for the lost phalluses. Devoid of these empowering attributes, the statuette represents Freud’s determination to understand female sexuality as secondary to normative male sexuality.

The Smart Museum held a symposium in conjunction with the exhibition, which featured lecturers from around the country.

Curator: The exhibition was organized by the State University of New York at Binghamton in conjunction with the Freud Museum, London.

The exhibition was sponsored by grants from CIBA-GEIGY Pharmaceuticals and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding for the Chicago showing of the exhibition was received from the Illinois Arts Council, and the Institute of Museum Services.