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Dargerism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger

April 15–September 21, 2008

Featuring Amy Cutler, Henry Darger, Jefferson Friedman, Anthony Goicolea, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Yun-Fei Ji, Justine Kurland, Justin Lieberman, Robyn O’Neil, Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, and Michael St. John

The American Folk Art Museum is home to the single largest repository of works by one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, Henry Darger (1892–1973), who created nearly three hundred watercolor and collage paintings to illustrate his epic masterpiece, 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, which encompasses more than fifteen thousand pages.

There is a long history of academically trained artists drawing inspiration from self-taught artists and thus freeing themselves to think in unexpected ways and on their own idiosyncratic terms, almost in defiance of what they were taught. “Dargerism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger” examines the influence of Darger’s remarkable and cohesive oeuvre on eleven such artists, who are responding not only to the aesthetic beauty of Darger’s mythic work—with its tales of good versus evil, its epic scope and complexity, and even its transgressive undertone—but to his unblinking work ethic and all-consuming devotion to artmaking. This exhibition demonstrates Darger’s pervasive influence on the contemporary art discourse and how an examination of the work of self-taught artists is essential for a full understanding of art history. By leaning into the boundaries of the Western canon, “Dargerism” illustrates how one self-taught master has spawned a new movement, a wholly new “ism.”


At Battle of Drosabellamaximillan…
Henry Darger (1892–1973)
Mid-20th century
Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper
19 x 47 3/4 in.
American Folk Art Museum purchase, 2002.22.1b
Full title: At battle of Drosabellamaximillan. Seeing Glandelinians retreating Vivian Girls grasp Christian banners, and lead charge against foe
© Kiyoko Lerner; photo by James Prinz

Justine Kurland (b. 1969)
New York
Color photograph
30 x 40 in.
Courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Photo courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

Amy Cutler (b. 1974)
Brooklyn, New York
Casein and Flashe on wood
32 x 60 in.
Collection of Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz, courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York
Photo courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York

Ash Wednesday
Anthony Goicolea (b. 1971)
Brooklyn, New York
Color photograph
40 x 80 in.
Collection of Stephane Janssen
Photo courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York

These Moving Bodies, The Numb Processions
Robyn O’Neil (b. 1977)
Houston, Texas
Graphite on paper
65 x 37 in.
Private collection
Photo courtesy Clementine Gallery, New York

Thank Heaven for Little Girls
Justin Lieberman (b. 1977)
Philmont, New York
Ink-jet prints and Plexiglas
32 x 82 x 1 in.
Collection of Sue and Joe Berland
Photo courtesy Zach Feuer Gallery, New York (LFL)


“Dargerism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger” is made possible by support from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and Agnes Gund. Museum exhibitions are supported in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Online exhibition catalog

Collection Catalog

Darger: The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum
By Brooke Davis Anderson, with Michel Thévoz; foreword by Kiyoko Lerner. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the American Folk Art Museum, 2001. 128 pages.


PBS POV interview with Brooke Davis Anderson

Modern Art Notes

Modern Art Notes interview with Robyn O’Neil

It’s a promising idea for a show, especially considering Darger’s emergence in recent years as a kind of pop-culture mascot
– Ken Johnson
Few visual artists of the last half century have quite the same popular currency as Darger.
– Ben Davis
The show argues that he had an indispensable and irrefutable influence on a younger generation of artists
– Emily Bauman