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Louise Bourgeois: Tangled Biography

A psyche rendered solid

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Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine
Directed by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach
June 25 through July 8, Film Forum

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Perhaps a benefit of its epic gestation—much of the original footage dates back to '93—Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach's documentary biography of nonagenarian sculptor Louise Bourgeois nicely distinguishes itself from a current theatrical epidemic of stultifyingly admiring life-of-the-artist docs. Bourgeois, born in France but expatriated to the U.S. before World War II, has tangled with surrealism, feminism, postmodernism, and most any other -ism you could think of in the course of her creative life. The filmmakers seem to have developed an unusual intimacy with their subject, and part of this film's pleasure is in the intergenerational frictions that come up in Bourgeois and Wallach's conversations, with the interviewer trying to coax her subject into mouthing explicitly feminist cant, and Bourgeois cannily demurring. When Wallach calls a Brancusi sculpture "phallic," Bourgeois scoffs; while many activists read Bourgeois's oeuvre as a rebellion against the patriarchy of her girlhood (the Guerrilla Girls: "She's our icon, whether she likes it or not"), Bourgeois insists that she's been reacting to one specific patriarch: her philandering father. The artist's festering recollections of her girlhood mesh with guided first-person tours of her sculptures, creating a privileged look into a psyche rendered solid.

 
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