Darger's At Battle of Cains Fair, Face Death by Stray Shells (detail, 1930s)
photo: ©Kiyoko Lerner/Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne

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 sensibility—conflicted, creepy, and adorable—has 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 side—fetishized childlike women, eroticized schoolgirls, kiddie porn—keeps metastasizing, here and in Japan.

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