In search of Henry Darger

"Statues Strangling Children" by H. Darger

“Statues Strangling Children” by H. Darger

Henry Darger, the artist and eccentric, came to my attention a few years ago. These days his work is going under the gavel at places like Christies and getting shown in Paris. In his lifetime, Darger lived as a recluse, barely surviving on poverty level wages, living alone in rented rooms. The people who knew him (his landlords and fellow tenants) only discovered his artistry when Darger was on his death bed. Luckily, his landlord, Nathan Lerner, recognized that the heaps of drawings, books, collages and other items were not ‘junk’ and didn’t simply toss it all to make room for another tenant. These days, it seems that most of the rest of the word agrees with Lerner. People who wouldn’t have looked twice at a dirty, shabby old Darger while he was alive are buying his works, visiting his exhibitions, etc. I’m not claiming to be smarter than anyone else — I doubt I would have recognized Darger for what he was if I had met him in his lifetime. And given his reclusive nature, I doubt Darger would have been able to psychologically bear the public scrutiny involved in becoming a famous artist in his lifetime.

Stories like this make me wonder how much fascinating stuff, produced by weirdos, outcasts and recluses, ends up in dumpsters after they die.

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