To inaugurate its new series of focused exhibitions in a small gallery on the fourth floor, the American Folk Art Museum has installed eight drawings by Henry Darger. Although they are a mere fraction of the 300 drawings Darger created as illustrations for his 15,145-page manuscript, they are epic in format and content. Since its discovery in 1973, the manuscript 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, has been much-heralded as the quintessence demonstration of outsider art talent. The manuscript’s fifteen dense volumes (volume six is on display in the exhibition) tell the fantastical story of the seven Vivian sisters, the princesses of the Christian nation Abbieannia, who partake in a revolt against the Glandelinians, a regime that practices child slavery.
The drawings display consistent and captivating compositions, vivid colors and powerful expressions that range from lighthearted to eerily dark. Darger’s process of tracing and collaging images from magazines and books can be viewed here from a rare proximity. One can easily become enraptured by the variety of emotions expressed by the countless androgynous figures, or the meticulous confederate garb fashioned from Darger’s extensive knowledge of the Civil War. While the illustrations and manuscript are imaginative and mythological, it is now known that they are indicative of Darger’s own rigid Christian beliefs and his tireless efforts to protect children. This exhibition thus permits a rare intimate viewing of these multi-layered works—rather than overwhelming the viewers with a plethora of available materials, it permits us to focus on the exquisite minute details that have given art historians reason to pronounce Darger as one of the incomparable artists of all times.
Images: Henry Darger, Human Headed Blengins of Calverine Island Catherine Isles. Males. Venomous (Mid-twentieth century), Watercolor, pencil, and carbon tracing on pieced paper, 19 x 24 inches, Photo by James Prinz, (c) Kiyoko Lerner; Henry Darger, Untitled (Blengins Capturing Glandelinian Soldiers) (Mid-twentieth Century), Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper, 31 1/2 x 131 in. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, New York (c) Kiyoko Lerner; Henry Darger, At Jennie Turner Children Tied To Trees In Path Of Forest Fires. In Spite Of Exceeding Extreme Peril, Vivian Girls Rescued Them 1 Vivian Girl Jennie Observes With Spy Glass Great Massacre Of Children And Brings The Attention Of Her Sisters To It (Mid-twentieth century), Watercolor, pencil, colored pencil, and carbon tracing on pieced paper, 18 x 47 1/2 in. Photo by James Prinz, (c) Kiyoko Lerner. All courtesy American Folk Art Museum.