MoMA Gets Last Works from Darger Estate


New York’s Museum of Modern Art has acquired 13 double-sided drawings by Henry Darger, arguably the most well-known Outsider artist. Darger, a janitor who spent most of his life in the same Chicago apartment building, died in 1973, leaving behind a trove of watercolors, drawings and collages discovered by his landlords, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner. (The Lerners became the custodians of Darger’s estate after the artist’s death.)

The gift is in honor of MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, who organized a survey of the artist’s work, “Disasters of War,” in 2000 at New York’s PS1 Contemporary Art Center. The show presented Darger alongside Goya and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Biesenbach was the first curator from a major museum who had the vision to recognize Darger’s importance,” Andrew Edlin, the New York dealer who formerly represented Darger’s estate, pointed out to A.i.A. “Prior to the PS1 show, Darger had been contextualized only as an Outsider artist. Now, a lot of the greatest self-taught artists have come to be recognized as part of the contemporary art dialogue.”

The 13 new additions to MoMA’s holdings are, according to Edlin, the last works left in Darger’s estate. “Mrs. Lerner was strategic, and had a very emotional connection to the work. She held on to the ones that she thought were the best until the very end.”

Henry Darger. Untitled (Spangled Blengins. Watercolor and pencil on paper. Gift of the estate in honor of Klaus Biesenbach. © 2011 Kiyoko Lerner / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York