Text from Andrew Edlin Gallery
1892-1973, Chicago, IL
Henry Darger was born in Chicago in 1892. After the death of his mother he was placed in a Catholic home for boys and then into the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in rural Illinois, from which he ran away at the age of seventeen.
Darger lived a solitary life, working as a janitor in a Chicago hospital from around the age of thirty until his retirement in 1963. A devout Catholic, Darger went to mass every day. During this time Darger created the work for which he is now known. Alone in his room, unknown to those around him, he gave tangible, visible form to an epic story of legions of pre-pubescent girls—with paper-doll faces and unexpected male organs—who battle for their lives against monstrous foes who seek to torture, kill or exploit them. This, his magnum opus, is commonly referred to as In the Realms of the Unreal, though Darger's actual title is The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelininian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and spans over 15,000 single-spaced typewritten pages. This expansive, complex narrative together with over 300 imaginatively constructed fantasy drawings have come to be regarded as one of the 20th century's most original and unusual literary works.
It was not until after Darger's death that the full scope of his artistic production became known. His landlord, Nathan Lerner, himself an artist and inventor, discovered Darger's artworks after the artist was sent to a nursing home just before the end of his life. After the reclusive artist's death, Lerner devoted much of his time and attention to the gathering and dissemination of Darger's art and related, archival materials. Nathan Lerner died in 1997 at which point his wife Kiyoko Lerner took over managing the artist's estate.
As Darger's work has become better-known to both outsider-art and contemporary-art audiences in the U.S. and in Europe, it has won wide acclaim from critics, artists, art historians, curators and collectors who have recognized the withdrawn art-maker and story-teller as one of the most original talents—and as a true visionary—of his time.
Darger's art has been the subject of the monographs Henry Darger: Selected Art and Writings, by Michael Bonesteel (Rizzoli, 2000), and Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, by John M. MacGregor (Delano Greenridge Editions, 2002). The artist's work and life were also the focus of a meditative documentary by the Academy Award-winning film-maker Jessica Yu (In the Realms of the Unreal, 2004). Other movies about Darger may be forthcoming; the California-based production company Bedford Falls, which co-produced "The Last Samurai" with Warner Bros., has purchased the rights to develop a feature film based on the artist's life.
Darger's works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Collection de l'Art Brut (Lausanne), the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Darger's art also has been featured in many notable museum exhibitions, including "The Unreality of Being," curated by Stephen Prokopoff (University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1996; Museum of American Folk Art, New York, 1997). It was also seen in "Disasters of War" (P.S. 1, New York, 2000), where it was presented alongside works by the Spanish master Francisco de Goya and the British, contemporary-art duo Jake and Dinos Chapman. Earlier this year, an entire gallery was devoted to Darger's drawings in "Dubuffet and Art Brut" at the Museum Kunst Palast, in Dusseldorf; that exhibition will open at the Musee d'Art Moderne de Lille-Metropole on October 10 (and run through February 1, 2006). Darger's work has also been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Setagaya Art Museum (Tokyo), the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin), and the Collection de l'Art Brut. Darger's art is scheduled to be featured in forthcoming exhibitions at La Maison Rouge (Paris), next year, and at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco) in 2007.