Artist Profile – Henry Darger
Henry Darger’s 15,000 page manuscript, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, is by some reckonings the longest work of fiction ever written. A kind of mythic allegory of child endangerment and redemption, this complex and violent epic is heavily illustrated with large-scale scrolls that describe Darger’s fantasy cartography, enumerate his invented human military forces and hybrid creatures, and above all, memorialize his beloved Vivian Girls, plucky heroines that also appear in other of his novels and journals. Shortly before Darger’s death in 1973, the landlord of the Chicago apartment in which he’d lived for over forty years discovered this remarkable manuscript and drawings.
A solitary and profoundly Catholic man, Darger seems to have sought little contact with the outside world beyond attending daily Mass. In 1905, he was institutionalized as feeble-minded, and escaped the brutal Lincoln, Illinois, asylum three years later to end up in Chicago. He eked out a living as a janitor and dishwasher in Catholic hospitals, where he remained for the rest of his life except for a short stint in the U.S. Army. Darger devoted his free time to his masterwork In the Realms of the Unreal, which he limned with tracings, photo enlargements, and collage, brilliantly painted in a variety of media. He proved a master colorist and a genius of narrative composition. Battle scenes and idyllic landscapes, sometimes in uneasy simultaneity, provided the exquisite backdrops for the surreal adventures of his threatened children. Overarching themes of innocence and evil, Catholic faith, and weather systems pervade his sumptuously detailed fantasy world. Some viewers are troubled by the occasionally disturbing violent psychosexual imagery, but Darger’s artistic accomplishment is hard to deny. His work, among the most valuable in the self-taught sphere, can be found in important collections worldwide, and has shown in the United States, Japan, Germany, France, and Switzerland.
Preview of Jessica Yu’s film on Henry Darger, In the Realms of the Unreal
Primary Source Resources:
INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Artists, Chicago, IL
The American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner Foundation, Chicago, IL
Books and Exhibition Catalogs:
Henry Darger. New York: Rosa Esman Gallery, in association with Phyllis Kind Gallery, 1987.
Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1996.
Ashberry, John. Girls on the Run: A Poem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.
Bonesteel, Michael. Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings. New York: Rizzoli, 2000.
MacGregor, John M. Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal. New York: Delano Greenidge Editions, 2002.
Biesenbach, Klaus, ed. Henry Darger: Disasters of War. Berlin: KW Institute for Contemporary Art, in association with Distributed Art Publishers, 2004.
Gomez, Edward. Sound and Fury: The Art of Henry Darger. New York: Edlin Gallery, 2009.
Biesenbach, Klaus and Brooke Davis Anderson, Michael Bonesteel, Carl Watson, Henry Darger. Henry Darger. New York: Presteel, 2009.
Jeromack, Paul. “Catholic Abbiennians Fight the Wicked Glandelians.” Art Newspaper 8 (April 1977): 22.
Morris, Randall Seth. “Good vs. Evil in the Work of Henry Darger.” The Clarion 11, no. 4 (Fall 1986): 30-35.
Wilson, Cleo. “Intuit Interviews John MacGregor, Ph.D.” Intuit 3, Issue 2 (Winter, 1995): 6-8, 10-13.
MacGregor, John. “Henry Darger: Art by Adoption.” Raw Vision 13 (Winter 1995-1996): 26-35.
Cotter, Holland. “A Life’s Work in Word and Image, Secret Until Death.” New York Times, January 24, 1997.
De Carlo, Tessa. “The Bizarre Vision of a Reclusive Master.” New York Times, January 12, 1997.
Prokopoff, Stephen. “Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being: On Preparing, Organizing and Mounting a Darger Exhibition.” Folk Art 21, no. 4 (Winter 1996/1997): 46-53.
Stevens, Mark. “Golden Girls.” New York (February 3, 1997): 51, 54.
Vine, Richard. “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Art in America, vol. 86, no 1 (January 1998): 72-79
Williams, Jonathan. “In the Realms of the Unreal.” Modern Painters 21 (January 1998): 29-30.
Polanski, G. Jurek. “Henry Darger: Realms of the Unreal.” ArtScope.net, (Fall 2000).
The Realms of the Unreal. Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL, 1977.
The Drawings of Henry Darger. Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York, NY, 1980.
Henry Darger: Realms of the Unreal. Phyllis Kind Gallery, 1982.
Henry Darger. Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York, NY, 1986.
Henry Darger. Rosa Esman Gallery, New York, NY, 1987.
Dans les Royaumes del’Irrée. Fondazione Galleria Gottardo, Lausanne, Switzerland, 1996.
Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being. The University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA, 1996.
Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being. The Museum of American Folk Art, New York, NY, 1997.
Henry Darger and His Realms. Galerie St. Etienne, New York, NY, 1999.
Henry Darger: Realms of the Unreal. Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, IL, 2000.
Disasters of War. P.S.1/MoMA, New York, NY, 2001.
Darger: the Henry Darger Collection. The American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY, 2002.
Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal. The Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary
Art, Tokyo, Japan, 2002.
Studies and Sketches: Henry Darger. Eva and Morris Feld Gallery, The American Folk Art
Museum, New York, NY, 2003.
Visions Realized: The Paintings and Process of Henry Darger. Intuit: The Center for
Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, IL, 2003.
Henry Darger. Galerie St. Etienne, Paris, France, 2004.
Henry Darger: Highlights from the American Folk Art Museum. The Andy Warhol
Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, 2006.
Henry Darger: The Vivian Girls Emerge. Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY, 2006.
Henry Darger : A Story of Girls at War, Of Paradises Dreamed. The Hara Museum of
Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan, 2007.
Darger Discoveries. Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY, 2007.
Bruit et fureur : L’oeuvre de Henry Darger (Sound and Fury: The Art of Henry Darger). La
Maison Rouge, Paris, France, 2008.
Dargerism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger. The American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY, 2008.
The Private Collection of Henry Darger. The American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY, 2010.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Whitney Museum of American Art, NewYork
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland
New Orleans Museum of Art, LA
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian, Washington D.C.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Musée d’art moderne de Lille Metropole, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France
Compiled by Samantha Mitchell