American, 20th century.
Born 1892, Chicago, Illinois; died 1973, Chicago, Illinois.
Henry Darger is one of the few Outsider Artists to achieve significant fame in mainstream culture, and is often named as the quintessential American Outsider due to the extensive and powerful body of artwork he kept hidden during his reclusive life. Orphaned shortly after his birth in 1892, the Chicago native spent his childhood at a home for boys, and worked for most of his life as a custodian at a Catholic hospital. Discovered posthumously by his landlord, Darger’s work included an extensive weather journal, an autobiography, and two epic, illustrated works of fiction of which one 15,000 page novel stands out as his lasting legacy: The Story of the Vivian Girls in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnean War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.
Darger’s novel in 15-volumes—three of which contain the long, rectangular watercolor collages for which Darger is best known—tells the dramatic story of the heroic Vivian girls, 7 sisters who assist the rebellion of child-slaves against their oppressors, the sadistic Glandelinian warlords. Set on a mythological planet populated by fantastic winged creatures called Blenginglomeneans, In the Realms of the Unreal depicts bloody battles as well as bucolic landscapes, repeatedly pitting archetypal forces of good against evil. Darger used an inventive stencil technique to transfer images Xeroxed from popular magazines onto his long paper scrolls, creating richly layered compositions and an uncanny synthesis of the familiar and the exotic.
Much speculative ink has been spilled about the possibility that Darger was involved in the death of a local Chicago girl who makes an appearance in his novel, but these allegations seem far-fetched and have never been proven. Darger is remembered as a masterful storyteller and unsurpassed artist, and his life and work have inspired generations of artists to work outside the bounds of the expected.
- Jenifer P. Borum
2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
2018, Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
2017, Known/Unknown: Private Obsession and Hidden Desire in Outsider Art, Museum of Sex, New York
2015, Henry Darger: xxx, Musée D'Arte Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris
2012, Accidental Genius: Art From the Anthony Petullo Collection, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin
2010, Henry Darger, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
2010, Up Close: Henry Darger and the Coloring Book, American Folk Art Museum, New York
2009, Compass In Hand, Museum of Modern Art, New York
2008, Glossolalia, Museum of Modern Art, New York
2008, Dargerism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger, American Folk Art Museum, New York
2007, Henry Darger: The Story of Girls at War, Of Paradises Dreamed, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
2007, Into Me/Out of Me, Museum of Modern Art, P.S. 1, New York
2006, Henry Darger: Highlights from the American Folk Art Museum, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh
2006, Bruit et Fureur, l'oeuvre d'Henry Darger (Sound and Fury, The Art of Henry Darger), La Maison Rouge, Paris
2006, Inner Worlds Outside, traveling exhibition, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundacíon "La Caixa," Madrid; WhiteChapel Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
2005, Dubuffet & Art Brut, traveling exhibition, Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf; Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne; Museum of Modern Art Lille Metropole, Villeneuve d'Ascq
2003, Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
2001, Disasters of War: Francisco de Goya, Henry Darger, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Museum of Modern Art, P.S. 1, New York, KW Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin, Migros Museum für Gegenwarts-kunst, Zurich, the Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Stockholm
1997, Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being, American Folk Art Museum, New York
1996, Dans les Royaumes de l'Irréel, Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
1992, Parallel Visions, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Collection abcd, Paris
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago
Lille Métropole Musée d'art modern, d'art contemporain et d'art brut, Villeneuve d'Ascq
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Everything, London
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Stone, Lisa, ed., Accidental Genius, exhibition catalogue, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 2012.
Johnson, Ken, "Where Beauty Collides With Creepy," New York Times, May 13, 2010.
The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin/Milan, 2010.
Biesenbach, Klaus, Henry Darger, Prestel, New York, 2009.
Smith, Roberta, "Where Outsiders Come in From the Cold," New York Times, January 8, 2009.
Smith, Roberta, "Henry Darger: The Vivian Girls Emerge," New York Times, January 5, 2007.
Sound and Fury: The Art of Henry Darger, essay by Edward Goméz, exhibition catalogue, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2006.
Dagen, Philippe, "Darger et ses petites filles en guerre," Le Monde, June 8, 2006.
Inner Worlds Outside, exhibition catalogue, Fundacíon "La Caixa," WhiteChapel Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art & Ediciones El Viso, Madrid, 2006.
Dubuffet & Art Brut, exhibition catalogue, 5 Continents & Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, 2005.
MacGregor, John M., Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, Delano Greenidge Editions, New York, 2002.
Bonesteel, Michael, Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings, Rizzoli, New York, 2000.
Tuchman, Maurice and Carol S. Eliel, eds., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.
Outsiders: An Exhibition of Art Brut, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus St. Alban, Basel, 1988.
Cohrs, Timothy, "Henry Darger, Artist (Outsider, Naive, Folk, Autistic or Genuine Fine)," Arts Magazine 61, No. 5, January 1987.
Morrison, C.L., Realms of the Unreal: The Work of Henry Darger, exhibition catalogue, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, 1977.