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Louise Bourgeois: the Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine


Directed and produced by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach


Barbican Cinema 1


 9 – 10 Sept 2010








A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Louise Bourgeois: the Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine is a documentary about an artist that helps you understand artists. Through a well-balanced arrangement of interviews and sculpture shots, the expose explores what Bourgeois thought it meant to be an artist, and how her unflinching personal relationship with her own work sculpted her life.

Bourgeois is a revelation in art chronology in terms of her successes. She was given her first retrospective in her 70s, and only received real acclaim in her 80s when her maternal-biographic masterpiece Maman, a 9-metre high metallic spider, was premiered at the opening of the Tate Modern. Her death earlier this year was met with deep regret from the art world, and acted as a poignant reminder of how much both the woman and her art have affected the current artistic landscape.

This film is particularly intriguing because Bourgeois directly answers – or as directly as an artist can answer – questions concerning her art. And they’re often strikingly simple. Q: Why did you choose to use red? A: Red is the colour of blood, and blood equals pain. Bourgeois also explains how she uses sculpture to express her rage. If she is angry with someone, she will attack her art rather than attack that person. This may seem a rather naïve attitude from such an established artist, but reassuringly, Bourgeois’s longevity refutes this. The fact that she had been creating art for 50 years without the praise she deserved proves that she was committed, honest and natural. This notion is most clearly understood in Bourgeois’ own analysis of how artists should be treated. She explains that artists should not be funded by the government because they are so lucky. They are unique in the way that they can connect so freely with their unconscious self. According to Bourgeois, art allows you to know yourself and knowing yourself is the surest route to sustained happiness.

Made only a few years before her death and intimately shot, the film captures the humanity of Bourgeois: her combating frailty, resilience and power. It portrays her abrupt and idiosyncratic humour and her brutal, economical style of language. It is clear that the artist inside the woman cannot subside, no matter what the body suggests, and that her mind is still as sharp as her carving scalpel. The lingering shots of her work, often set to a soft and eerie piano score, offer substantial opportunity to imagine that the sculptures are right there in front of you. As Bourgeois describes the difference between artisans and artists, the viewer is treated to an exploration of her designs via a camera which creeps between the walls of cylindrical chambers and under the structures of menacing spindles. The combination of seeing the artist in her home and in her studio creates an image of a woman who is irrevocably linked to her work. She admits she has no taste for ‘decoration’ and rather fills her rooms with the art that is her life.

The only disappointment was that film felt a little directionless. Although it revealed much about Bourgeois as a person and artist, there was no driving point or ultimate question it sought to answer. Perhaps Bourgeois could have been displayed and examined in the light of her contemporaries, or in the very least her contemporaries could have been asked to give their opinions on her work. Nevertheless, as a showcase of Bourgeois’ art, and as a tribute to her humility, the film is a triumph.

Bourgeois states at the opening of the film that the sign of a true sculptor is someone who wants to twist and change everything they pick up. And it is this innate desire to shape and create which the film succeeds so well in portraying. It may lack a splash of drama, but the art is depicted so beautifully, and the portrait carved with such accuracy, that their delicate juxtaposition is enough to quicken the pulse.


Box Office:

Barbican Centre
Silk Street London

September 9 – 10th at 8.45pm in Cinema 1

Tickets: £8.50








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