Darger, Schmarger | Letters | Chicago Reader

Darger, Schmarger 

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Dear editors:

It's fine that Michael Bonesteel is an enthusiastic supporter of the painter Henry Darger ["Secret Battles," January 12]. Darger's work is, initially at least, visually and emotionally compelling. But some would argue that after seeing about a dozen Dargers you've pretty much seen them all.

What really grates, however, is Bonesteel's absurdly elevated comparisons to artists such as Joseph Cornell and Picasso. Cornell was an eccentric in some respects (not socially dysfunctional however), but he did not possess the tunnel vision obsessiveness that starts to become so wearisome with Darger. Cornell had a sublime poetic sense that combined with a highly sophisticated and varied group of ideas that worked on many levels. And he was an innovator. Cornell's boxes introduced a whole new art form into the 20th century. Formally, Darger's work, at best, is in keeping with Postimpressionism.

And to compare Darger's status to Picasso's is ludicrous. Picasso, along with Braque, created a whole new kind of picture space that influenced painting for decades afterwards. And Picasso, along with Braque, discovered collage. Darger just made use of it.

It is Darger's crippled notion of subject that makes him a minor artist and no amount of critical pumping is going to put him on the level of Edvard Munch and others. In part, it is their intellectual awareness of their times and Darger's lack of it that separates them.

Darger is a curious and strange figure with an inventive imagination who possessed some real visual gifts. He should be appreciated but not exalted to the heavens.

Richard Fenwick

N. Magnolia

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