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Bruit et Fureur, the Works of Henry Darger
Henry Darger, detail, © Kiyoko Lerner.

PARIS, FRANCE.- La Maison Rouge presents Bruit et fureur, the works of Henry Darger (1892-1973). Bruit et fureur ("Sound and Fury"), the works of Henry Darger, is the first French monographic show devoted to this reclusive American artist who spent his entire life alone in a rented room on Webster Street in Chicago.

It wasn't until 1972, when he left his home for the hospital where he would later pass away, that his landlord Nathan Lerner, himself an artist and a professor at the Chicago Bauhaus, discovered the written works and paintings of his eccentric boarder. This exhibition is an opportunity to discover the artist's early work, including five recently restored collages which have never before been on view.

Henry Joseph Darger was born in 1892 to a poor Chicago family. Shortly before his fourth birthday, his mother died while giving birth to a baby girl. His father placed the baby in an orphanage the same day. Until the age of 8, Henry lived alone with his father. At school, he was considered aggressive with his schoolmates and with a tendency towards pyromania. He was subsequently placed in a boys' home and later in an institution for feebly-minded children, where he received minimal education and was abused. At 17, and after several failed attempts, he managed to escape. He moved back to Chicago where, since his father was now deceased, he lived alone. He found employment as a janitor in a Catholic hospital.

Henry Darger spent the next 50 years working at the hospital and attending mass at his neighborhood church while never speaking to anyone about his "secret" life, the evenings and nights which he entirely devoted to his life's work, "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".

This 15,000-page epic narrative, begun in 1911, recounts life in a kingdom ruled by a general who has seven pretty young daughters, the Vivian Girls. The kingdom falls under attack by surrounding countries, and the valiant Vivian Girls attempt to save the children who have been forced into slavery and violently massacred by enemy soldiers. The story ends with the little girls' victory and the return to an idyllic world, a veritable Garden of Eden.

In the 1920s, Henry Darger decided to illustrate his writings. Considering himself incapable of drawing, he created a method which could be called "proto-pop art". He used illustrations found in children's books, advertisements, children's clothing catalogues and magazines, tracing them on carbon paper and then painting them with watercolors. Using this technique, he painted ream upon ream of paper, on both sides, which he then glued together to form panels over two meters long. For decades, Henry Darger kept these paintings in his room, though he never dated them.

The force, violence, and technical prowess of this unique oeuvre sets it apart in the history of art. Discovered by an artist 35 years ago, Darger continues to influence the work of the new generations, including the Chapman brothers, Paul Chan, Marcel Dzama or Grayson Perry.

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