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Henry Darger

WHEN EIGHTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Henry Darger died in 1973 and his secret trove of art and writings was unearthed by his nosy Chicago landlords, the term “outsider art” was new, having been proposed only the previous year by art historian Roger Cardinal as an English alternative to art brut. At the time, the work of artists like Adolf Wölfli, Simon Rodia, and the Rev. Howard Finster, to the extent that it was known at all, was effectively stigmatized as a form of arts and crafts practiced by unusually creative religious fanatics, conspiracy theorists, and the mentally ill. But the discovery of Darger’s epic and unschooled but aesthetically rigorous project, which happened to use contemporary-art techniques like appropriation while paying equal respect to the kind of sentimental illustration that passes for art among grandmas and Republicans, gave outsider art a fresh exemplar of unimpeachable

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