NEW YORK, NY.-
What Henry Darger displayed on the walls of his apartment in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago is on public view, for the first time, in the exhibition The Private Collection of Henry Darger, from April 6 through September 19, 2010. Brooke Davis Anderson, curator and director of The Contemporary Center and the Henry Darger Study Center, has selected nearly 40 cardboard collages from the more than 80 in Darger's personal collection that are now part of the American Folk Art Museum
's holdings. These are the artworks that Darger lived with and saw every day.
Like many practicing artists, Darger surrounded himself with his own production. Modestly scaled, executed with simple supplies on readily available material, reclaimed and repurposed, the collages are framed in inventive ways. The images are also surprising. "They illustrate a previously unexplored aspect of Dargerís creative world," notes Ms. Anderson. Rather than the familiar large-scale, scroll-like, brightly colored landscapes, battle scenes, and weather-related watercolors, these intimate works are primarily portraits: faces of girls and boys, men and women. The countless images of people were cut from newspapers, magazine illustrations, coloring book pages, and photographic enlargements.
Darger used cardboard and other found boards as his backing and layered the images densely in a collage technique. He often framed images with Christmas Seal stamps. Less frequently, he encased his composition in wax paper strengthened by medical tape, mirroring more conventional framing methods and materials. Because of the fragile nature of newsprint and paper and the deleterious effects of the coal-burning stove in his apartment, both inherent vices, the collages exude a patina of age and use.
On the walls of his apartment, Darger attached his mixed-media artworks with string tacked onto the walls, or pasted with glue directly on various surfaces. "These are the images he would look at when he was writing and illustrating his epic novel In the Realms of the Unreal," comments Brooke Anderson. The exhibition will include three of his "cinema-scale" watercolors depicting interior scenes enhanced with art on the walls of the room that utilize the conventions of high art forms. These paintings-within-paintings, Untitled (Ornate interior with multiple figures of girls and blengins) and Untitled (Aqua tinted interior with multiple figures of girls and blengins), incorporate landscape scenes, still lifes, and full-length figures. In Untitled (Blengins capturing Glandelinian Soldiers) and Picture One, exhibited double-sided, Darger's collage interventions are a focal point in the composition.
The private collection of Henry Darger challenges some notions about "outsider artists." Ms. Anderson suggests that as scholarship about self-taught artists and their work expands, "our prior definitions of artists working outside the academy will be dismantled. We will have a more nuanced understanding of how an autodidact learns about artmaking, arrives at decisions about imagery, and creates compelling work." She proposes that "we reexamine the notion of the outsider artist" based on our knowledge about Darger, the consummate artist, who wrote books, made art, and amassed a private collection.
Darger's oeuvre has not only excited the public's imagination but also that of critics, curators, artists, art historians, poets, filmmakers, musicians, and literary scholars. Partly in response to this interest, in 2008 the American Folk Art Museum's Contemporary Center established, the first fellowship in the field of self-taught artists and their work: the Henry Darger Study Center Fellowship. Scholars from a variety of disciplines are provided with unlimited access to the archives and then are expected to make contributions to the body of research on the artist. The first three fellows: Jaimy Mann, Kevin Miller, and Mary Trent, along with Juliana Driever, another Darger scholar, have been invited to contribute their points of view to this exhibition. Each has chosen one or several works in the exhibition to discuss in a wall text that illuminates Darger's work in fresh and original ways. Jaimy Mann focuses on orphans, in particular Korean and Vietnamese war orphans; Kevin Miller discusses the idea of replication in Darger's collages; Mary Trent looks at childhood and child's play; and Juliana Driever considers Darger's use of images of children with their pets in the works in his personal collection. "Their research is presented in the hopes of promoting this field of study and sparking the interest of other young scholars," notes Ms. Anderson.