In Realms of the Unreal: The Life and Work of Henry Darger

This exhibition introduced the now infamous works on paper by the posthumously discovered outsider artist Henry Darger (1892-1973) alongside paraphernalia from the artist studio. The exhibited watercolors and pencil drawings illustrated Darger’s 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called 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 on which the artist has been working all his life.

The show at Hyde Park Art Center happened only 3 years after the artist’s death and the discovery of his extraordinary artistic practice. Darger’s Chicago landlords, Nathan and Kiki Lerner brought the work to the attention of long time Art Center patron and major collector, Ruth Horwich, who was instrumental in making the exhibition happen. It was the first of many solo and group exhibitions of Darger’s work nationally and internationally and led to the acquisition of his work in the collections of major art institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

In the exhibition, watercolors and pencil on paper works, many including collages and handwritten annotations were juxtaposed with magazine photos, cartoons, newspaper clippings and fragments of coloring book pages found in the artist studio. Darger’s handwritten manuscripts were exhibited alongside monster portraits, the artist’s fictional “military” maps, and other typed bound books. His illustrations, according to the exhibition curator, C.L. Morrison, were and are, “engrossing examples of an aggressive kind of art which selects and adopts outside source material for an expressive personal statement.”

The Art Center published the first document of Darger’s work in an 8×10 inch newsprint  handout featuring an introduction by Nathan Lerner describing the” shuffling old man…who would rarely speak to anyone, but if spoken to would respond politely — always about the weather”.  And an extensive essay by Morrison on the “Dargerian relationship between heroes and storms.”

View the Hyde Park Art Center Darger Exhibition Archive hosted on the University of Chicago’s LUNA database.

Image credits: (Banner image)Blengin during mine concussion, detail, watercolor, pencil, and collage on paper, 19 x 40 inches; (above) Child slaves and Vivian princesses mingle in enemy territory, watercolor and pencil on paper, 19 x 55 inches.
All images on this webpage courtesy of the archives at Hyde Park Art Center.

  • September 25, 1977 – November 5, 1977
  • Blackstone Avenue Building

    Henry J. Darger (originally Dargarius), 1982-1973
    Photography by David Berglund

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