Darger's At Battle of Cains Fair, Face Death by Stray Shells (detail, 1930s)
Henry Darger: Art and Myth Galerie St. Etienne
24 West 57th Street
Through March 13
With Takashi Murakami's fresh young female disciples filling two Chelsea galleries with coltish images of big-eyed pre-pubescent girls and polymorphously perverse innocence, Henry Darger seems less like the ultimate Outsider than everyone's accidental ancestor. This new sensibilityconflicted, creepy, and adorablehas morphed halfway around the world from ukiyo-e prints through manga and anime to art. Here at home there's a host of female photo-artists and painters focused on adolescent girls, and an even newer batch of teenage-bedroom boy artists. But it took the Murakami-world vision of malignant, infantilized glee to suggest a link to Darger, whose current exhibition takes on his legions of girl warriors art historically. Leaving out his most virulent imagery, it proposes a chronology and stylistic development, offers source material, and showcases his formal wiles and sly color. It's not Darger's fault that the nasty flip sidefetishized childlike women, eroticized schoolgirls, kiddie pornkeeps metastasizing, here and in Japan.