Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Celebrating a Humble Man and a Master Painter

Henry Darger's work: "Untitled (Two Girls and a Dog Sitting in Garden)" from Collection American Folk Art Museum, © Kiyoko Lerner. Photo by Gavin Ashworth. Center photo of "Untitled (Ornate Interior with Multiple Figures of Girls and Blengins)" from Collection American Folk Art Museum, © Kiyoko Lerner. Photo by James Prinz. Patti Smith photo at bottom courtesy of Edward Mapplethorpe.

WONDER what the man himself would make of all the fuss the American Folk Art Museum is making over him?

The institution that bills itself as the “home to the largest repository of artworks by Henry Darger” last month celebrated the anniversary of HD’s 118th birthday with the opening of the exhibition “The Private Collection of Henry Darger,” which includes collages not on public view until now. And in the guise of a fundraiser, the museum continues the celebration Saturday night at Espace with a party that includes a Patti Smith performance and an aerial show by Cirque-tacular Entertainment.

“The American Folk Art Museum board long wanted to present a benefit that would appeal to younger and hipper donors,” museum director Maria Ann Conelli (MAC) explained via e-mail. “They've known for a long while the special place Henry Darger’s art occupies in their collection.”

One suspects that HD might be intensely embarrassed by all of the attention, mortified that his work is even in a museum. After all, this master painter and arguably the biggest name in Outsider Art was a menial laborer who up until his death kept his masterpieces-to-be in the room he rented in a Chicago boarding house.

Yet, a miniscule part of such a humble, unassuming soul might also be just a touch flattered by such grand gestures. The art world in general – and the world at large – is a better place, thanks to the massive discovery by HD’s landlords 37 years ago.

MAC concurs: “When Henry Darger died in 1973 at the age of 81, he left behind an astonishing cache of art all largely unseen. The trove included massive multi-volume illustrated manuscripts, double-sided 9-foot long scroll-like watercolor, photo enlarged tracings and hundreds of sketches. Depicting a turbulent world, the works are the product of the fertile imagination of a reclusive Chicago janitor who has since been recognized as one of the supreme self-taught artists of the 20th century.”

Figuring prominently in HD’s coloring-book style work are children, particularly little girls, having fun or rising above the forces of evil bent on their destruction. This is especially true of his 15,000-plus page magnum opus, "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal."

Why this preoccupation? No one knows for certain, though theories abound. Is it so surprising from someone who lost a newborn sister to adoption after their mother died shortly after giving birth? He would also spend time in a boys home when his father fell ill and would be institutionalized after his father’s death.
In “Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal” ( New York: Delano Greenidge Editions), biographer John MacGregor quoted his subject as asserting that children should have an inalienable right "to play, to be happy, and to dream, the right to normal sleep of the night's season, the right to an education, that we may have an equality of opportunity for developing all that are in us of mind and heart."

MAC believes part of HD’s appeal to fans as diverse as David Bowie, Mary-Kate Olsen and Natalie Merchant is that he approached his art with childlike imagination, brio and a hint of mystery. "There’s so much we don't know about Darger," she says. “Henry Darger created a fantasy world through his writings and cinema-like paintings.”

On Saturday night at Espace, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Betsey Johnson, Jeff Koons and other expected guests will no doubt be encouraged to visit the museum by 19 Sept. to view “The Private Collection of Henry Darger.” Pieces in the exhibit that MAC says merit special attention are “Only Trees, Trees not Bees,” “Sister Have You forgotten What We Stand For,” “To Err is Human” and “Let your Beauty be Seen.” She describes them as “four of his enigmatic titles.”

Purchase tickets to the benefit evening for the American Folk Art Museum by contacting Katie Hush at (212)-977-7170, Ext.: 308 or Tickets can also be purchased at Also visit this Web site to learn more about the work of Henry Darger, including “The Private Collection of Henry Darger.”

No comments :

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .
Based on a work at .
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at .