A Wounded Apparition
January 14, 2005 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Into the realm of Henry Darger When Henry Darger died in Chicago on April 13, 1973, he was a destitute man whose final days were spent at a home for the elderly. Now, 30 years later, Darger ranks among the greatest outsider artists America has ever seen. Found in the astounding clutter of Darger's one-room apartment was a 15,000-page fantasy epic, bound by hand in 15 volumes, titled "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." Along with this were three separate volumes filled with 300 drawings, including 87 multi-sheet horizontal panels, some 12 feet long with drawings on both sides. The discovery of Darger's NSFW work spawned numerous books, a play, a British rock band (the Vivian Girls), and an excellent y2karl MetaFilter post. And now there's also Jessica Yu's documentary "In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger," a portrait of the reclusive artist that has been shortlisted for the upcoming Academy Award nominations. Again, Darger's art can be disturbing and must be considered not safe for work (more inside)
posted by matteo (30 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
His room was opened, and his oceanic creation uncovered, while Henry was still alive at the home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor; when told about the discovery, he said, "It's too late now."


Info on US screenings is here
posted by matteo at 9:38 AM on January 14, 2005

I have seen some of this material in an exhibition at the Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore, and it is pretty amazing. It appears, from the Village Voice article, that the widow of Darger's landlord, Kiyoko Lerner, owns the copyright to his work and has made more than $1 million selling the material. To her credit she has been a good steward of Darger's assets, but is she keeping the money, or using it to benefit his legacy (and relations, if any)?
posted by beagle at 9:57 AM on January 14, 2005

Not to be a total buzz kill, but as someone who appreciates Darger's work I found the new documentary disappointing. To be honest, Darger's life just wasn't all that interesting. Darger's work speaks for itself, modifying it with animation and bad voice-overs was disconcerting. I luckily saw this great documentary the same night.
posted by anathema at 10:06 AM on January 14, 2005

The Ashbery book, Girls on the Run, is really great. Then again, I'm convinced he's the greatest living author today.
posted by bardic at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2005

By the way, nice post.
posted by anathema at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2005

Hunting around for an answer to my own question, it appears that some of the Lerners' money, at least, is going into the Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner Foundation, which according to its public reports on Guidestar, has as its mission "The Operation of the Henry Darger Center, an art clinic for the mentally ill." While the foundation had $173,000 in assets at the end of 2003, it expended only $697 that year in "program services" for the Center. (2004 report not yet due.)
posted by beagle at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2005

Haven't seen the documentary yet, but this is a great Darger post in general.
posted by safetyfork at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2005

Fantastic post. Thanks.
posted by josephtate at 10:48 AM on January 14, 2005

We have had info on Darger before here on mefi but it has been so long ago that it matters not. Very interesting subject.
posted by konolia at 10:53 AM on January 14, 2005

He died four days before I was born. I don't know, I just find that mildly disconcerting for some reason. Great post.
posted by hob at 10:56 AM on January 14, 2005

I was born April 13, 1973. Hmmm.....
posted by camworld at 10:58 AM on January 14, 2005

it's fascinating to see someone totally dedicate his life to something like that ... it makes me wonder what other people have done that we don't know about
posted by pyramid termite at 10:58 AM on January 14, 2005

Thank you for this post.
posted by Pigpen at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2005

At first misread, I was terribly excited to see a FPP on Harvey Danger. This is good, too, though.
posted by The White Hat at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2005

We have had info on Darger before here on mefi but it has been so long ago that it matters not.

When you put as much work into a post, you can say something like that. It matters to me. I put work into them--they are not, unlike so many of your comments, whatever inane prattle comes into my head. I have found it bemusing to find a number of my old posts recycled of late. In this case, I think most of the links in that post are long dead, all things considered, and don't begrudge matteo for posting this, especially with the props--although I can't say I am not slightly annoyed. I don't come here to see a topic already once well covered and I make a point of not re-posting other people's posts even in part when there is new material related worth posting.
posted by y2karl at 11:26 AM on January 14, 2005

And I shouldn't make comments when I am in a bad mood to begin with.
posted by y2karl at 11:36 AM on January 14, 2005

I love Darger's stuff. He had a great eye for composition and color.

Some other interesting outsider artists:
Adolf Wolfli

Charles Dellschau

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji

Of course, Sorabji isn't an "outsider artist" in the traditional sense of the word. He was a well-educated, classically trained artist, he just decided to live on the fringe.

Also, please don't kill me y2karl if you've already posted these.
posted by papakwanz at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2005

Who'll save the poor little girl? Henry Darger. 
Who'll save the poor little girl? Henry. 

Who'll tell the story of her? Henry Darger. 
Who'll tell it to all the world? Henry. 

Who'll buy the carbon paper now? Henry Darger. 
Who'll trace the lines of her mouth? Henry. 

Who will conquer foreign worlds searching for the stolen girls? 
Princesses you'll never fear the patron saint of girls is here! 
Who will draw the cavalry in and risk his very own precious skin 
To make our Angelinia a free and beautiful land again? Henry. 

Who'll love a poor orphan child, Henry Darger, lost, growing savage and wild? Henry.

--Natalie Merchant
posted by papercake at 1:18 PM on January 14, 2005

There is also a good song by Mazarin called Vivian Girls.
posted by milovoo at 1:49 PM on January 14, 2005

i saw the film in SF a couple of weeks ago. i thought it was great, and i quite liked the animation. it was bold, but it was just subtle enough to keep me always aware that this was the documentarians playing loose with what were and always will be static images.

i want to know people's thoughts about the penises on the girls. is it really possible that the guy lived that long and didn't know about the differences in anatomy? I have to think it was -- for some reason -- deliberate. Anyway, it certainly adds a darker element to what seems to be, for the most part, a largely innocent, if obviously repressed, sexuality.
posted by milkman at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2005

Great post, great subsequent links -- thanks! (I hope the documentary plays for at least a few weeks around L.A. -- I'm recovering from surgery and can't get out for awhile yet, and methinks this is something that might take a long time to get to DVD....)
posted by scody at 2:08 PM on January 14, 2005

Never heard that one, papercake. I doubt the documentary is worth a three hour drive, sadly.
posted by absalom at 4:05 PM on January 14, 2005

Never saw those, papakwanz, but previously on this topic, emptyage mentioned Achilles Rizolli.
posted by y2karl at 4:32 PM on January 14, 2005

The Vivian Girls is also a song by (the late'n'great) Snakefinger (scroll). There's a Darger themed mixed CD in here somewhere.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:37 PM on January 14, 2005

I saw the film in NYC, and I agree, the images animated spectacularly. They had something of a Yellow Submarine quality about them. As far as his landlord inheriting the work: she looked out for him during his life and showed compassion and understanding to a man few landlords would have tolerated so patiently. (She even LOWERED his rent when he couldn't pay.)

It's sad that we live in a world wherein the first assumption about something like this is inevitably that theft and chicanery simply have to be involved. The artist's work must have been somehow stolen, his landlord must have taken advantage of him, the work must rightfully belong to someone else, such as his relatives (REALLY wrong there - the folks in his building were all he had). See the film and you'll know better.
posted by humannature at 5:38 PM on January 14, 2005

There was a rumor going 'round that Donna Tartt was working on a book about Darger, but evidently it never came to be.
posted by Clay201 at 6:23 PM on January 14, 2005

Matteo knocks another one out. That trailer knocked me out, so I'm now inhaling all the Darger stuff I can. There go a few more hours. Papakwanz, thanks for the new avenues of distraction as well. Why does Matteo always drop these bombs on Fridays?
posted by TomSophieIvy at 6:59 PM on January 14, 2005

Ah, so Darger is a doublepost? 'Cause I had been sure that Darger had been posted here. Otherwise, I would have. He's certainly worth a post.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:01 PM on January 14, 2005

*patiently waits for karl's next abu ghraib/iraq /bush post*
posted by matteo at 7:46 AM on January 15, 2005

I've been obsessed with Darger for awhile as well -- great post. If anyone is in the Chicago area, be sure to drop by Intuit: The Museum of Outsider Art -- it houses the flagship Darger collection, and right now, Found Magazine has an exhibition there.
posted by pfafflin at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2005

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