Yesterday the dude and I headed to midtown to see the Henry Darger exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum. At first I thought I was going to see just his work but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was about the way he has influenced contemporary artists. The exhibit is impeccably curated, with influences that can be seen both in the work of contemporary artists and in feeling. Darger's work should definitely be seen up close. When you see images of his work in magazines or the internet, you only really get a sense of the subject and the message; but when you see up close the way he mixed his images and the way he used color, it really becomes something else. Many people seemed to be offended by his depictions of little girls (sometimes naked and always with penises), but those people totally missed the point. His work reveals a kind of tenderness, imagination and naivete, just like a child would have. And when the little girls are heroes, fighting against adults that enslave and abuse them, you can't really let first impressions scare you away.
Of the 12 contemporary artists also featured in the exhibit, two stood out for me the most; Robyn O'Neil and Amy Cutler. The first thing you see when you walk in, is a HUGE ocean landscape made by Robyn O'Neil. Unfortunately there is no photography in the museum and I couldn't find that specific work online, so here is an image of my second favorite piece by her, "These Moving Bodies, These Numb Processions" (keep in mind that the original work is 65" by 37"). Incredibly overwhelming and detailed, her work instantly allows your brain to escape reality. I could've stayed in the first floor looking at her work the entire time if possible, but obviously, there were more things to see. Her work is probably the least influenced by Darger in the literal sense, but her creations of imaginary worlds and her ability to transport the viewer there surely shares a common bond with him.
Amy Cutler's work (seen below) shares a common theme with Darger in that they both depict troops of little girls in unsettling settings. They are delicate and dainty at first glance, but deliciously subversive once you take a good look at them. My favorite piece was an image of a dollhouse, with little girls scurrying across the floors with ladders, reading quietly in their bedrooms and pigs tied to little girls buried between floor levels hanging unto the floor below. It is morbid and a little bit weird, but oh so beautiful.
Dargerism is well worth the time, the money and everything else. I think it is my favorite exhibit that I've been to. Although the works that I highlighted here are more traditional mediums, there is also pottery, sculpture, video and photography included in the show. It's really amazing to see how this unknown janitor from Chicago influenced so many people in such amazing ways. If you want to find out more about him and his work, you should definitely check out "In the Realms of the Unreal", a film about Darger by Jessica Yu.
The show runs until September 21, 2008 so if you are in the city, you should do yourself a favor and head over there. The admission price at the American Folk Art Museum is ridiculously cheap ($9 for adults and $7 for students), so you really have no excuse not to go.
For more info, check out the American Folk Art Museum.