Henry Darger



29 September – 18 May 02


From September 29th 2001 until March 31st 2002 the KW Institute for Contemporary Art presents for the first time in Berlin a selection of works by the American artist Henry Darger (1892 - 1973), whose art probably belongs to the most unusual phenomena of C20 art production. The selection includes a number of unpublished works.

Affected by a childhood as a orphan living in children's homes (his mother died when giving birth to his sister who was subsequently set up for adoption, and is father died a few years later), Henry Darger (1892 - 1973) very early began to create himself an alternative fantasy-world, which became his refuge from the world of the adults and ultimately his second reality. Innocent children, adolescent girls and long-haired boys are the victims of, or the rightful warriors against the evil adults - teachers, educators or warlords. Working as a dishwasher in a hospital and living solitary, over a period of six decades Darger almost exclusively devoted himself to the creation of a single work, the 15.000 page comprising epic The Realms of the Unreal, illustrated with an impressive series of un-dated watercolors. Darger witnessed the horrors of war filtered through newspaper articles and incorporated them, first as collages and later more freely, into his art. Battles, concentration camps and other disasters of C20 history feature in his world of children just as much as mythical beats and floral landscapes.

The Realms of the Unreal (full title: The Story of the Vivian Girls in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal or the Glandelinian War Storm or the Glandico-Abbiennian Wars, as Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion) narrates war as we may imagine it in our collective psyche: the "innocent" are angel-like innocent, the menacing bad boys are horrifically evil. The story portrays the battles between seven heroic little girls who hail from a Catholic republic and the evil, butchering Glandolinians - wayward followers of the faith.

Himself wishing never to grow up and as a tireless collector of all sorts of reproductions of children, The Realms of the Unreal are exclusively populated by children. Though Darger never directly witnessed war - he was drafted but then rejected from the Army at the beginning of World War I - he experienced it by obsessively scouring newspapers and magazines. His works, which he partly sewed together creating over-dimensional formats, are at once naive, darkly charming, grotesque and disturbing.

Henry Darger did not regard himself as an artist, he never cared seeing his paintings exhibited. His work was only discovered and published after his death by his landlords, the Bauhaus artist Nathan Lerner and his wife, the pianist Kiyoko Lerner. Ever since Darger counts as one of the hidden mysteries of C20 art. Attempts to assign his art to any artistic movement - whether Outsider Art, Art Brut, Catholic Art or proto-pop - are unsatisfactory, since it goes beyond these boarders. It seems as if many of Darger's works anticipate images of the more recent art production, such as works by Damian Hirst, Anna Gaskell or the Chapman Brothers.

The selection presented at the Kunst-Werke has been exhibited at the P.S.1/MoMA, New York, together with "The Horrors of War" by Francisco Goya and the cycle "Hell" by Dinos and Jake Chapman.
The exhibition is part of the artistic side-program of the "Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941 - 1944", which will be presented at the Kunst-Werke from November 28th 2001 to January 13th 2002.

Supported by the Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner