Darger's debris


By the time Henry Darger's prodigious artistic output was uncovered, his life was over. After 40 reclusive years in a one-room apartment on Chicago's North Side, the 80-year-old Darger was taken to Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home in 1972. Six months later he died. Afterward his landlord, Nathan Lerner, found in Darger's apartment hundreds of drawings and watercolors and a 15,145-page manuscript for a fantasy epic 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. A self-taught artist, Darger, who worked as a hospital janitor and dishwasher, also collected old newspapers, comic books, religious kitsch, and trash from the streets: Lerner discovered hundreds of Pepto Bismol bottles and nearly 1,000 balls of string in Darger's room. Darger drew inspiration from this debris and often incorporated it into his work. Most of the human figures in his drawings and paintings, for instance, were traced directly from images he'd found in books and magazines.

Now the Smart Museum's newest exhibit, Drawn from the Home of Henry Darger, brings together several pieces of Darger's work, donated to the museum by Lerner, and some of Darger's aesthetic stimuli, juxtaposing the watercolor drawings and a double-sided collage with a sampling of his art supplies and source materials. The display includes not only Pepto Bismol bottles and balls of string, but also coloring books, children's books, and magazines—which Darger had carefully cataloged—and archival photographs of Darger's apartment.

Running through March 16, the exhibit coincides with the installation of the Henry Darger Room—a display that uses artwork, furnishings, papers, and objects from the artist's apartment to recreate his living environment—at Chicago's Intuit, The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.


Images: Henry Darger's watercolor drawing, Second day Northwest at Jennie Richee are captured by general Federals glan-delinian near Aronburg Run River, and his double-sided collage, [Th]ey Awake to Find Themselves Really in Peril From Exploding Shells Hitting Their Prison at Norma Catherine / But Again Escape / Capture Enemys Plans.

Images courtesy the Smart Museum.

January 4, 2008