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Realms of Creation: Wölfli & Darger, Side by Side

August 26 – October 15, 2005

Realms of Creation: Wölfli & Darger, Side by Side
Realms of Creation: Wölfli & Darger, Side by Side

Switzerland's Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) and the American, Henry Darger (1892-1973), are two of the legendary giants in the fascinating field of art made by self taught, visionary artists who lived and worked outside the cultural mainstreams of their times.

With "Realms of Creation: Wölfli and Darger, Side by Side," Andrew Edlin Gallery is pleased to offer outsider art aficionados and newcomers to the field alike an exceptional opportunity to examine a definitive selection of Adolf Wölfli and Henry Darger's works up close and in rare proximity to each other. The exhibition calls attention to the inventive techniques and meticulous craftsmanship that these two artists from very different cultures and backgrounds brought to their unique, astonishing bodies of work.

Each of these relatively isolated art-makers conjured up more than just extraordinary images. In his 45-volume, 25,000-page fantasy-autobiography that documented his alter ego's creation of the world and far-flung voyages, Wölfli combined illustration, poetry, story-telling and musical composition. Similarly, in Darger's 15-volume magnum opus, In the Realms of the Unreal, the reclusive, Chicago-based artist merged an expansive, complex narrative with imaginatively constructed fantasy drawings to create what has come to be regarded as one of the 20th century's most original and unusual literary works.

The gallery's presentation features seven works by Wölfli, including "Skt. Adolf = Raad = Hall Amazon" (circa 1928), a large, double-sided, text-filled sheet with brightly colored escutcheons, and five drawings by Darger (also double-sided, of which four are over eight feet long), including images of his signature Vivian Girls frolicking in strange gardens (presumably before or after one of their brutal battles with their child-slave-owning nemeses).

Wölfli, a farm boy from the countryside around the Swiss capital of Bern, spent the latter part of his life as a resident of a psychiatric hospital after his assaults on little girls led doctors to diagnose him as schizophrenic. At first a sometimes violent patient, he became calm when he turned his attention to making art. His elaborately patterned, hallucinatory drawings are masterpieces of "art brut" ("raw art") that the French modern artist Jean Dubuffet discovered in Europe in the 1940s and championed in numerous essays and exhibitions.

Darger, an orphan and devout Catholic who worked much of his life as a hospital janitor, lived in self-imposed isolation in a Chicago boarding house. There, alone in his room, unknown to those around him, he gave tangible, visible form to an epic story of legions of pre-pubescent girls with paper-doll faces and unexpected male organs—who battle for their lives against monstrous foes who seek to torture, kill or exploit them. It was not until after Darger's death that the full scope of his artistic production became known.

As recognized masters in the field of outsider, visionary art, Wölfli and Darger set high aesthetic and technical standards for the genre, and their works are highly prized. As a result, at any given time, only a limited number of works by either artist is generally available on the open market. With this in mind, "Realms of Creation: Wölfli and Darger, Side by Side" offers a rare, concentrated consideration in a gallery setting of the work of these two artists which, until now, when presented in depth by commercial galleries or museums, has normally been presented separately.

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