Introduction

Betwixt and Between: Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls

April 12-September 4, 2017
Curated by Leisa Rundquist

Betwixt and Between: Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls

Darger artwork
Henry Darger (American, 1892-1973). Untitled (detail), mid-twentieth century. Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pierced paper, 24 x 106 ½ in. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, museum purchase with funds generously provided by John and Margaret Robson, 2004.1.3B, Photo Credit: James Prinz © American Folk Art Museum / Art Resource NY © 2017 Kiyoko Lerner / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henry Darger’s Vivian girls and the thousands of others in his make-believe world exist in contradictory states; Darger positions these little “girls” somewhere between male and female, both biologically and socially. The Vivian girls’ ambiguous gender speaks broadly, and with rich complexity, to culture’s polarizing constructions of child/adult and male/female. Darger plays with these polarities and fabricates an extraordinary “child” beyond nature—capable of defeating bloodthirsty Glandelinians.

Visually, this plucky band of seven sisters are appropriated from popular images of childhood from early to mid-20th century American coloring books, comic strips and clothing advertisements. Darger, however, complicates their seemingly cute and innocent bodies with hand-drawn additions of male anatomy—a characteristic of “girls” in Darger’s fictional world that remains unexplained. The Vivian girls’ intersexual nature and frequent nudity is certainly one of the most significant, yet puzzling, aspects of Darger’s art.

The exhibition features major works by Henry Darger that include double-sided, panoramic drawings with watercolor and collage spanning up to eight feet long, Vivian portraits, as well as traced images and resource materials from Intuit’s archives.

Virtual tour

Catalog

Press coverage

Artsy “The Radical Message behind Henry Darger’s Transgender Child Superheroes”
DNAInfo Chicago “Rahm Declares Today ‘Henry Darger Day’ to Honor Lincoln Park Artist”
Flash Art “Henry Darger”
Hyperallergic “Today is Henry Darger Day in Chicago”
Hyperallergic “The Sexual Ambiguity of Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls”
Newcity “Darger Never Disappoints: A Review of Betwixt and Between: Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls at Intuit”
Windy City Times “Art Event Looks at Gender Mysteries in Artist Henry Darger’s Works”
Windy City Times “Panel Looks at Gender, Sexuality in Darger’s Art”

Special thanks to the American Folk Art Museum, New York, for its
generous loans of Henry Darger artworks and archives.

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