From an art historical perspective, the work of Louise Bourgeois effects a startling synthesis of traditions. In the 1930s Ms. Bourgeois fell in with the Paris Surrealists, and their touch (totemic, irrational, biomorphic, uncanny) can be felt on her sculptures, installations and drawings to this day. Other Modernist influences — the elemental rigor of Brancusi, the archaic vigor of Picasso — fused, in the postwar era, with her experiments in unorthodox materials and techniques (fabrics, knitting) and disquieting new forms (distorted anatomies, giant spiders) in sync with emerging ideas of the body, gender and sexuality.
A true (and sometimes terrifying) original, Ms. Bourgeois, now 96, is more than the sum of her parts. The uncommonly elegant and evocative portrait “Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine” reveals much about this haunting and haunted master while leaving intact what Georges Braque once wrote was the only thing that mattered in art: the thing you cannot explain.
At Ms. Bourgeois’s Brooklyn studio, the filmmakers Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach attend to her rambling, entrancing ruminations on the archetype of “the runaway girl”; the necessity of silence; and the power of fear and the primacy of memory in her work — of the mangled bodies of World War I veterans, of her mother twisting fabrics in a stream, of abandonment, of dreams.
The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Produced and directed by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach; directors of photography, Mead Hunt and Ken Kobland; edited by Mr. Kobland; released by Art Kaleidoscope Foundation. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is not rated.