Louise Bourgeois, now in her nineties, seems an excellent subject for a retrospective. You wouldn't expect her to produce much more at that age. Yet from the evidence at Tate Modern (the exhibition opens on Thursday) she might still surprise people. It is hard to imagine, though, that there will be a better opportunity to understand her art and its development.
Siri Hustvedt (I love her book of essays on painting: Mysteries of the Rectangle) in an article published in Saturday's Guardian, 'The Places that Scare You', makes an excellent case for looking closely at Bourgeois' work, for trying to see it directly, rather than through the haze of psychoanalytic theory that critics have spun around it. Bourgeois' repertoire of symbols - the near-phalluses, spirals, body parts, siders and cells - have a visual immediacy that can be compromised if you go to this work expecting to find a series of exemplars of Kleinian theory.
Underlying this whole exhibition and oeuvre are deep questions about the relationship between memory, art and life. The driving force for Bourgeois, that no viewer can ignore, is the small child's anger and hurt at her father's affair with her governess Sadie. This is the source of the energy that drives every phase of the artist's career. Yet, and this is the crux of her art, Bourgeois transforms the particularities of her early trauma into a series of objects that touch universal concerns in ways that mere confessional repetition would fail to do.
While at the opening of this show I met an eminent art historian who clearly despised Bourgeois' work, dismissing it as 'sentimental', and 'pushing all the right buttons for the feminists'. For him this use of autobiography was clearly crude and manipulative - an easy tug on the viewer's emotions. A milder criticism of her art is that she sometimes tells us too much (the equivalent of what screenwriters call 'writing on the nail') - this is Richard Dorment's point in this review.
I disagree with the charge of sentimentality: the frequent ambiguity undercuts that possibility. But see for yourself.
Transformations - a four-session course at Tate Modern.