Marion Cajori, 56, Filmmaker Who Explored Artistic Process

New York Times
August 29, 2006

Marion Cajori, an independent filmmaker who chronicled the creative process in documentaries about artists, died on Aug. 8 in Manhattan. She was 56 and lived in Manhattan and Setauket, N.Y.

The cause was cancer, said Nicholas Quennell, a member of the board of the Art Kaleidoscope Foundation, which produced her films.

Over her career, Ms. Cajori worked as a director, producer and writer. She came by her interest in artists naturally, as the child of two New York painters, Charles Cajori and Anne Child. Her parents separated when she was young, and she grew up in art circles in New York and Paris.

Ms. Cajori studied painting and filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, earning a B.F.A. in 1974. She was a member of the feminist editorial collective Heresies in the early 1970's.

Her first film, ''Sept. 11, 1972,'' was a Minimalist portrait of sunlight in her studio, made with the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth. She also collaborated with the video artist Joan Jonas and the director Lizzie Borden. ''White Lies,'' her narrative short-form film of 1981, gave Willem Dafoe one of his first cinematic roles.

In 1990 she established the Art Kaleidoscope Foundation, which was co-producer, with the independent filmmaker Christian Blackwood, of her first widely known film, the award-winning 1992 documentary ''Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter.'' The film presented an unusually intimate view of this famously private, intractable painter, whom Ms. Cajori first met when she was 9.

In 1998, PBS broadcast Ms. Cajori's Emmy-nominated special, ''Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress.'' She recently completed a second full-length feature about Mr. Close and the artists and curators whose portraits he paints, which is to be released this year.

Since 1992, she had been working on a feature-length film about the sculptor Louise Bourgeois with the art critic Amei Wallach. A segment of ''Louise Bourgeois: Art Is Sanity'' was shown on ''Art: 21'' on PBS in 2002. Ms. Wallach said she expected to complete the film by the end of 2007.

Ms. Cajori was married to Paul Jay, but had been separated from him for many years. She is survived by her father; her brother, Lukas Weber of Portland, Me.; and her daughter, Isabel Jay, and her son, Florian Jay, both of New York