Skip

Henry Darger's latest 15 Minutes
June 19, 2006 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Outsider art is exposed for what it is: beguiling and incredibly enticing. Henry Darger continues to capture new fans and his frighteningly gorgeous mindscapes continue to sell for thousands of dollars. "I found myself hastening past great Dubuffets, and lingering in front of vast ugly works produced by people who, to be honest, didn’t know how to draw…" (first link NSFW)
posted by zenpop (43 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Potentially??? Not if you work in a gay steamhouse, otherwise, yeah, NSFW.

Second link broken.

try again.
posted by wilful at 6:58 PM on June 19, 2006


Way NSFW. Double, kinda.
posted by bardic at 7:01 PM on June 19, 2006


Yeah, that's porn, and I know porn.
posted by nyxxxx at 7:03 PM on June 19, 2006


what the hell
posted by undule at 7:03 PM on June 19, 2006


Where "Outsider Art" was once a term for Art Brut, or "raw art" created by those society considers mentally ill, I can't help but feel its recent reappropriation as the companion to asset-driven "insider art" market — especially today of all days — is not only ironic, but also somewhat saddening. Outsider Art seems like the new Hallmark Holiday.
posted by Mr. Six at 7:03 PM on June 19, 2006


You mean the noir comic book I've been painting on carboard boxes rescued from Costco featuring my pet rabbit won't pay for my retirement?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:08 PM on June 19, 2006


There's no "I" in steam, baby
posted by nervousfritz at 7:13 PM on June 19, 2006


Never liked Henry Darger's creation as art for public viewing. I feel his privacy and life are dishonored and violated in the public viewing of what he never intended to show anybody.

After this poor, lonely, miserable, mentally ill man died alone in his tenement apartment, his next door neighbor came in and took his work, without his permission and sold it. That seems grotesquely wrong to me, to now open this man's private, demented obsessions up to the public.

Henry Darger died in 1973 in a Catholic mission operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. He was buried in a paupers' cemetery. He had no family or friends. The neighbors in his north Chicago apartment building remembered him as an odd, unkempt man who scavenged through garbage cans and talked to himself in numerous voices. He attended mass every day, often several times a day, but otherwise led a solitary life.

Other outsider art that is willingly shown by the artist is another thing altogether. I think art is not just made by the professionals by any means and outsider art most definitely can be marvelous. I just think Henry Darger's work was private and should have remained private.
posted by nickyskye at 7:13 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was expecting NSFW as in Darger drew naked little girls with penises, not NSFW as in hardcore gay porn.

When did the Hammer Gallery start selling these? That's the largest single collection of Dargers I've seen online to date. I can only imaging what they must be going for... I'm thinking six figures minimum. (If one can be had for only "thousands" and not "tens of thousands", though, hand me my credit card.)

robocop is bleeding writes "You mean the noir comic book I've been painting on carboard boxes rescued from Costco featuring my pet rabbit won't pay for my retirement?"

Maybe your kids' retirements, but it probably isn't worth anything until you're dead, man.

nickyskye writes "I just think Henry Darger's work was private and should have remained private."

I definitely understand your point of view, nickyskye, and I have some sympathy for it. But I also take a kind of a postmodernist stance: Darger's intent was always separate from (though intertwined with) the work, and now that he's gone, the work stands on its own. It's a thing of great beauty, and the world would be worse off without it. We can argue about whether what the Lerners did was right (I think it is, but, like I said, there's a valid argument), but the work deserves to be approached on its own terms.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:24 PM on June 19, 2006


I love Darger's paintings. The colors and compositions are frequently stunning, the bonkers subject matter is fascinating, the repetitive traced patterns are like a foreshadowing of sample/remix culture... it's a shame he's inseparable in people's minds from the phenomenon of outsider art. He was utterly unique and shouldn't be shoehorned into a movement where the pissing and arguing overshadows the work.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:25 PM on June 19, 2006


I saw some of his work at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, years ago. Really interesting to look at.

I wonder how many other Outsider artists are being wrongly shown at AVAM.
posted by sidereal at 7:27 PM on June 19, 2006


fleetmouse writes "it's a shame he's inseparable in people's minds from the phenomenon of outsider art."

I couldn't agree with this more. The work really transcends genre and category.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:32 PM on June 19, 2006


Paintings? It's a comic book. Why are they selling this in a museum and why can't I buy a copy of the book?
posted by nyxxxx at 7:35 PM on June 19, 2006


Because the book is far too long, repetitive and in serious need of an editor.

It's sad the money from this work isn't helping those like Darger instead of those who raided his work after his death.
posted by ?! at 7:44 PM on June 19, 2006


Actually, I believe they found all his work while he was still alive, and when someone asked why he didn't publish it, he intimated that it was simply too late at that point. If he really never wanted to share it, he probably would have burned it, if I can presume on his part.

The book he actually wrote, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion is not available, is it? I understand that it's 12 large volumes long, but I'd love to see at least a few excerpts.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:44 PM on June 19, 2006


?! writes "It's sad the money from this work isn't helping those like Darger"

Does this not count?

The Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner Foundation (NKLF) was initiated in September 1997. The mission of the NKLF is to recognize and promote the unique creativity of people with mental illness.

Through the Henry Darger Center, the Foundation strives to identify people with psychiatric symptoms who possess a unique artistic vision; to provide an ongoing, nurturing environment that stimulates their creative growth; and to encourage public appreciation of the creativity of people with psychiatric illness through exhibitions and educational programs. The artists participate through Thresholds, a large Chicago area mental health agency.

posted by mr_roboto at 7:51 PM on June 19, 2006


nickyskye writes "I just think Henry Darger's work was private and should have remained private."


Absolutely agree. I find it abhorrent that these pieces are for sale.
posted by dejah420 at 8:12 PM on June 19, 2006


In the Realms of the Unreal, a movie about Darger, doesn't add much to the work. And speaking of AVAM, here are some shots I took at a show devoted to drug art.
posted by muckster at 8:21 PM on June 19, 2006


mr_roboto: Thanks. I missed that. It does seem there is a movement to reposition Darger outside the Outsider Art arena.
posted by ?! at 8:33 PM on June 19, 2006


I don't think drager's stuff is too bad from an artistic standpoint, but I do see a lot of art that does not apear to have required any skill to produce.
posted by delmoi at 9:07 PM on June 19, 2006


"Kunst kommt von Können!"
posted by muckster at 9:10 PM on June 19, 2006


Amusingly, that made it through the work webfilter. No idea how - but would it kill you to put NSFW beside the actual link rather than three sentences later?

Also, is that first link actually anything to do with the topic at hand?

(Yes, I should probably take this to MeTa, but for some reason, the workfilter considers it porn - go figure).
posted by Sparx at 9:21 PM on June 19, 2006


zenpop, please use tags, they are truly useful when trying to find a post again later on.

http://www.metafilter.com/tags/darger
http://www.metafilter.com/tags/outsider
http://www.metafilter.com/tags/art
posted by intermod at 9:22 PM on June 19, 2006


Outsider art is a fascinating topic. While I think Darger warrants the high level of interest he receives these days, I think it's unfortunate that he often seems to be the only outsider artist people know. There are many more names in outsider art worthy of interest- two I'm particularly fond of are Louis Wain(big surprise there, I'm sure) and Adolf Wölfli.

With Louis Wain, only his post-schizophrenia work really counts as outsider art, of course. I find it much of it very beautiful in a disquieting sort of way. The definitive biography of him is this book by Rodney Dale, which has one picture in it that I wish was available online, as it's probably my favorite piece by Wain that I've seen. It's almost impossible to describe. Dale refers to it as a "picture of what appears to be the pleasant daydreams of a cat", which seems to be as good a guess as any.

As for Wölfli, from what I've read he was sort of the symbol of outsider art for a time, but he seems to be much less well remembered now, which I think is a shame- his work is incredibly complex and fascinating. There isn't much about him on the Web, it seems- there is this gallery, but the images there are too small to do justice to his art. I'd recommend this book if anyone is interested in exploring his work- it's the only book about him in English that actually has color plates, as far as I know.
posted by a louis wain cat at 9:30 PM on June 19, 2006


Wow; it's been a while since I've thought about Wain...

I'm half tempted to say that Wain is mostly a psychiatric curiosity, but I agree that the beauty of his work really demands more consideration than that. The thing with Wain is that there's something very mechanistic about his appeal. Look at this gallery, for instance. I think that the most striking feature of the gallery is not the work itself--neither the images before nor after his illness are unusually memorable in and of themselves (with an exception I'll get into in a few sentences)--but the fact of the transition. That fact is so striking because it seems to tell a clear and compelling story about the mechanism of mental illness. Anyone who's ever taken LSD instantly recognizes that transition; I don't think it's a coincidence that Wain was rediscovered in the 60s.

OK; so this is the exception I said we were going to get into: I said that Wain's post-illness work wasn't unusually memorable. This is only the case, however, because we've seen so much psychedelic art. Wain's stuff predated the invention of LSD by a few decades. Talk about visionary....
posted by mr_roboto at 10:36 PM on June 19, 2006


Where "Outsider Art" was once a term for Art Brut, or "raw art" created by those society considers mentally ill

I disagree, they are two separate terms, meaning two different things, Art Brut was coined years before anyone decided to use the term Outsider Art.

I despise how both terms are used, take a bunch of pompous uptight arrrtIST's (said with a french flair) and you get Art Brut and Outsider Art. People either like their work or they don't, does it really matter that they are either nutty as a loon or not formally trained? I honestly don't see the point to classifying their work like that.

this pet peeve moment brought to you by a formally trained arrrTIST who is neither pompous nor uptight ;)
posted by squeak at 10:50 PM on June 19, 2006


I think it's vital that art like Henry Darger's is made visible to public, because art that's all "safe" and "external" sucks, and is being traded in vast quantities now.

What bugs me about the people selling Henry Darger's art is that they often ignore the fact that it is two-sided... he built these collage pieces on BOTH sides of sheets of cardboard, but they are mounting them on sturdy backing, gluing one side to the board and therefore losing half of Henry's works. Bad, bad, bad idea.
posted by BoringPostcards at 11:16 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


I thought Outsider Art was the English translation of the French term Art Brut, but then I am neither an artist nor an arrrtIST nor a linguist.

But I did live in Switzerland for a while, and loved trekking over to the Musee de L'Art Brut, which has works by both Darger and Wolfli, among others (though my favorite item was a maniacally embroidered dress which, alas, the website doesn't reproduce).
posted by girandole at 11:19 PM on June 19, 2006


...and you get Art Brut and Outsider Art.... I honestly don't see the point to classifying their work like that.

Labels like that are how unofficial, unbuyable, unsellable art (the sort of art about which people yelp stuff like "My kid coulda done dat" and "Whoa, your uncle was one messed up fucker. Did he ever try anything with you?") is made official art that can be purchased by the usual buyers and by commoners in 3x5 reproductions at the gift shop. Simply calling something Outsider Art makes it Insider Art, just as a politician claiming to be Outside the System immediately, with that claim, inserts himself or herself into the system.
posted by pracowity at 11:39 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


mr_roboto, I'm fairly sure that I've seen several sources say that the pictures generally used to indicate Wain's increasing derangement were not actually painted in that order. Though there was certainly an increase in abstraction and psychedelic-looking artwork with the onset of his schizophrenia, it wasn't quite as clearcut as that set of pictures would have you think. [Wikipedia seems to think the same thing, although they fail to cite it. Damn.]
posted by ubersturm at 12:10 AM on June 20, 2006


the sort of art about which people yelp stuff like "My kid coulda done dat"

Huh? Is abstract expressionism now considered Art Brut or Outsider Art?
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:12 AM on June 20, 2006


ubersturm writes "Though there was certainly an increase in abstraction and psychedelic-looking artwork with the onset of his schizophrenia, it wasn't quite as clearcut as that set of pictures would have you think. "

Somehow I don't find that entirely surprising....
posted by mr_roboto at 12:16 AM on June 20, 2006


pracowity, sooo true (but still bugs the hell out of me and probably always will).
posted by squeak at 12:28 AM on June 20, 2006


mr.roboto: I'm half tempted to say that Wain is mostly a psychiatric curiosity, but I agree that the beauty of his work really demands more consideration than that. The thing with Wain is that there's something very mechanistic about his appeal. Look at this gallery, for instance. I think that the most striking feature of the gallery is not the work itself--neither the images before nor after his illness are unusually memorable in and of themselves (with an exception I'll get into in a few sentences)--but the fact of the transition.

Yeah, the transition definitely is one of the most interesting things about Wain, though as ubersturm says, the post-schizophrenia pictures in that gallery weren't actually composed in the order they're presented. For cites, the aforementioned Rodney Dale book discusses all of this.

It's unquestionably the case that Wain's work changed after he became ill, but along with the psychedelic stuff, he continued to do drawings in his old style. The examples of such I've seen tend to be subtly or not-so-subtly odd in various ways his pre-schizophrenia work wasn't, but there's nothing abstract about them. What seems to be more the case is that his mental illness opened some artistic doors, in a sense.

I would say Wain's post-schizophrenia pieces have a depth and beauty beyond what they're usually given credit for. What makes them interesting, I think, is a couple of things. The expressiveness of the cats is one, this being a good example- the cat's face has a pretty deeply freaked-out, haunted look, and it's hard not to see that as an expression of Louis Wain's own fractured psyche. At the same time, it's a fairly realistic cat expression- it remains fundamentally a feline portrait, yet it seems to have so much of its creator in it. Much of Wain's post-schizophrenia work is like this, and I find it gives his art a poignant quality which, IMO, is alone enough to raise him above the psychiatric curiosity level.

The other thing is that his work does tend to follow a certain formula, (cat surrounding by, becoming, or as psychedelic pattern), but there's often a startling amount of variety within that formula: none of these really look much like each other. Also, he did a few which sadly don't seem to be online for the most part, which don't exactly fit the formula and are somewhat beyond description. Like the example I mentioned in my last post- I keep trying to come up with a good description of it and I can't, but phrases that come to mind in trying are "collage-like" and "Eastern Orthodox icons but with psychedelic haloes and cats instead of Jesus." And as you said, the fact that it's basically psychedelic art years before psychedelic art existed as a genre by itself is enough to give his work a visionary quality.

Yeah, I'm a bit of a Wain fanboy, I admit it(as if the user name didn't give that away). I'll conclude this long-ass post by recommending that anyone who's interested in knowing more check out the Rodney Dale book, which unfortunately doesn't seem to be available in the United States. I got my copy from here, but Amazon.co.uk also seems to have it.
posted by a louis wain cat at 12:43 AM on June 20, 2006


a louis wain cat writes "Like the example I mentioned in my last post- I keep trying to come up with a good description of it and I can't, but phrases that come to mind in trying are 'collage-like' and 'Eastern Orthodox icons but with psychedelic haloes and cats instead of Jesus.'"

Your description makes me imagine something like the work of Klimt.

Thanks for that comment; you've definitely piqued my curiosity.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:10 AM on June 20, 2006



Quite an article. Darger seems to have tapped into some kind of raw artistic vein, unhindered by the maze of inhibitions socialization tends to create.

As for whether they should have remained private, well ... there are stories that Virgil wanted the Aeneid destroyed, since he couldn't entirely finish it before his death. Afterwards, Augustus decided that, instead, he would just publish it. So the poet's wishes weren't carried out, which, he according to some commenters here, is unacceptable, and the work should have died with him.

On the other hand, we now have the Aeneid, whereas otherwise we'd just have one less heroic epic to enrich life on Earth.

Maybe Darger's paintings aren't the Aeneid, but I still think that the work is bigger than the artist.
posted by Riovanes at 1:29 AM on June 20, 2006


meh
posted by surlycat at 1:54 AM on June 20, 2006


Actually, I believe they found all his work while he was still alive, and when someone asked why he didn't publish it, he intimated that it was simply too late at that point. If he really never wanted to share it, he probably would have burned it, if I can presume on his part.

There are also passages in The Vivian Girls and Darger's autobiography that appear to address an outside audience and/or editor. Not sure how I feel about the art market cutting up the work and selling it off, but I don't think Darger's hope was for it to remain purely private.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 4:30 AM on June 20, 2006


Does Wesly Willis's artwork count?
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:39 AM on June 20, 2006


Maybe your kids' retirements, but it probably isn't worth anything until you're dead, man.

Crap. So it looks like I need to 1) finish more than 2 pages and 2) hit the bottle/looney bin.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:26 AM on June 20, 2006


....but I do see a lot of art that does not apear to have required any skill to produce...
As my wife is fond of saying, where's your illustrious art career?*

It's easy to talk trash about how little skill is needed to produce modern art. Or music. Or the latest novel. Or a photograph. Or a TV show. Or whatever.

But until you've actually been inside that world and been successful, don't delude yourself about what's involved. Making it is hard, and if you're seeing it it's unlikely that there wasn't a lot of work done upfront by the artist.

Obviously some pieces require less skill to be produced than others, but generally a single piece or artwork is only meaningful in the larger context of the artist's oevre. If you or I submitted even a so-called great work of modern art (in the sense that one of us independently came up with Number 8^ or Adam^ and the painting or artist hadn't pre-existed) to a gallery, we wouldn't get anywhere. Even the famous Fountain^, which is imitated into the ground by would-be-dadaists is meaningless outside of Duchamp (and Dada/Surrealism, I guess).

My point is, sure maybe some people have made a splash with something that only took half and hour to actually execute... but there was likely more than that beind it.

There are always exceptions^, of course.
Labels like [Outsider Art/Art Brut] are how unofficial, unbuyable, unsellable art (the sort of art about which people yelp stuff like "My kid coulda done dat" and "Whoa, your uncle was one messed up fucker. Did he ever try anything with you?") is made official art....
Um, two words for you: Cy Twombly.^

He's really official, and boy if you want to hear a non-stop barrage of the my-kid-coulda
posted by illovich at 9:45 AM on June 20, 2006


blah, munged my last sentence:

He's really official, and boy if you want to hear a non-stop barrage of the my-kid-coulda kind of talk, stand in the Cy Twombly room of your local museum.
posted by illovich at 9:46 AM on June 20, 2006


Kafka told Max Brod to burn his unpublished writings too, I believe. Of course, sometimes a destroyed work of art still manages to build up a certain mystique which is itself inspiring. For instance, De Sade's "Les Journées de Florbelle".
posted by stinkycheese at 1:03 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


« Older "It's like the Olympics plus the World Series plus...   |   Don't I love thee! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post