- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

Visitors who enter the David Adamson Gallery’s exhibit “Robert Longo: The Freud Cycle, Prints and Drawings” quickly become part of a haunted, good-and-evil, black-and-white world. In Mr. Longo’s simulation of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s apartment in Vienna, Austria, shot by photographer Edmund Engelman in 1938, they can imagine laying their heads against Freud’s dazzling white pillows used for therapy in the print “Untitled (Diptych — Pillow and Chair, Consulting Room 1938).” Or they can pretend they’re sitting in Freud’s study with its piles of books in Mr. Longo’s sensuously drawn “Study for Bookcase in Freud’s Study 1938.” Then there’s also the sensuously executed “Study for Freud’s Desk 1938,” which visitors will want to reach out and touch. It’s as if Freud had just left the rooms when he fled Nazi Vienna for London that year.

Fortunately, Freud’s friend August Aichhorn commissioned Mr. Engelman to secretly photograph Freud’s apartments at Berggasse 19, as the photographer wrote in the London newspaper the Independent on July 31, 1999. Mr. Aichhorn wanted a record of Freud’s apartment so Austrians could create a Freud museum in Vienna after the war. Mr. Engelman used only natural light so as not to alert the Germans, and the 150 images he took often were askew from the haste with which they were taken.

The Engelman photos of Freud’s apartment were published in 1975 as the book “Berggasse 19” (Basic Books), and Mr. Longo was fascinated when a friend gave it to him in 1998. The photos in “Berggasse 19” inspired the artist’s “Freud Cycle,” a collection of drawings and Iris prints, and the David Adamson show is taken from it.

The photographer’s “courageous and secretive photo documentation acted as a catalyst in creating this group of drawings,” Mr. Longo wrote in the introduction to his 2002 “The Freud Drawings” exhibit catalog for the Albertina museum in Vienna.

“The aspect that really shocked me was the awareness that this man, Freud, was sitting in this apartment, dealing with the deep and dark abysses of our souls, while the Nazis were running around outside, actually doing those things,” he wrote.

Mr. Longo was hooked. That’s not surprising because the artist long had been preoccupied with good-and-evil themes expressed in black and white — such as his acclaimed “Men in the Cities” and “Monsters” series.

Mr. Adamson, head of David Adamson Editions, who printed the nine “Freud Cycle” prints in the exhibit, and Mr. Longo led visitors first to Freud’s front door, titled “Untitled (Interior Apartment Front Door With Bars 1938).”

The men collaborated to make this a dramatic image of a shiny white door with gleaming, geometrically configured black bars across it. The blacks set off the intensity of the luminous door and reflective metal lock.

This is a signature print for artist and printer: They balanced the elements harmoniously and dramatized the lights and darks by manipulating the print process. “Front Door” was run off on an Iris printer from a digital photograph for what the gallery calls an “edition of 30.” This means the print run is limited to 30 prints.

“Actually, it’s a ‘pigmented print’ that is printed with pigmented inks that are archival in that they could last up to 200 years. In monochromatic prints like Longo’s, we can get the very dense blacks we’re working for,” Mr. Adamson says.

After “Front Door,” the visitor gets more clues to the absent Freud’s life at the time with prints and drawings of the chair in his study, the bookcase in that room and views of the whole “Study Room,” showing parts of his art collection. The repeated images of what are titled “peepholes” remind visitors of the evil lurking outside.

Viewers will be intrigued by Mr. Longo’s meticulous but evocative drawing technique. In an image such as “Study for Freud’s Apartment Door With Nameplate and Peephole 1938,” the artist layers ink and charcoal on a smooth vellum support for unusually rich effects.

The white vellum pops up through smeared, rich charcoals for the peephole’s outer rim. Mr. Longo washed diluted inks across the background and inner parts of the knob for what appears as a deep black.

The charcoals take on a velvety quality in “Study for Freud’s Desk 1938” and “Study for View of Freud’s Study 1938.” Visitors see the back of an armchair first in “Freud’s Desk.” Mr. Longo built up the tonal areas of the chair with charcoal and varied ink shades for the desk and background. He further built up both charcoal and ink in the complexly configured “Freud’s Study.”

The gallery shows two prints — “Bookcase” and “Freud’s Study” — made from the original drawings on display. Immediately, their more intense contrasts of blacks and whites, and lack of detail, become apparent. Mr. Adamson explained to visitors that they were made from Mr. Longo’s larger drawings not on view here — some wall-size — and this accounted for the differences.

The exhibit is so interesting that visitors can only wish for more. It is regrettable that just a taste of Mr. Longo’s genius is exhibited, not a full meal — but that’s better than nothing.

There’s also a crucial irony in seeing this exhibit and its interpretation of Freud’s good-and-evil world during the United States’ call for a “high,” or orange, alert against terrorist attacks. The evil of the Nazis of Freud’s time, as illustrated in the Adamson show, seems like a prelude to our own difficulties.

WHAT: “Robert Longo: The Freud Cycle, Prints and Drawings”

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Jan. 31

WHERE: David Adamson Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW


PHONE: 202/628-0257

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