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This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Henry Darger’s Room, Shelley’s Ghost

March 2, 2012 | by

Henry Darger, Study of a Vivian Girl with Doll, mid-twentieth century, watercolor, carbon tracing, and pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

“The dustbin of history was, to the revolutionary of the thirties, what Hell was to the Maine farmer. To fall out of history, to lose your grip upon its express train, to be buried in its graveyard—the conflicting metaphors descriptive of that immolation recurred again and again. But who could have believed that it could happen to so many so young?” So writes Murray Kempton in A Part of Our Time, his series of biographical essays on radicals of the 1930s. First published in 1955, the essays have lost none of their sparkle, and as a great newspaperman (who just happened, sometimes, to write like Lytton Strachey) Kempton can dash off a portrait or render an absolute judgment or paint the entire sweep of the New Deal in a matter of column inches. —Lorin Stein

I was at the New York branch of the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya over the weekend, perusing their extensive selection of art publications, and I came across the 2007 book Henry Darger’s Room. The outsider artist’s work will be familiar to most people, but if you haven’t seen images of his tiny Chicago apartment—left intact for twenty-five years after his death and partially reassembled in the Intuit Museum—then have a look at this volume, by his former landlords. The book is somewhere between creepy and magical. —Sadie Stein

The New York Public Library’s exhibition “Shelley’s Ghost” is a pleasant place to spend an hour after lunch if you happen to be in midtown. You can examine “Ode to the West Wind” and “Ozymandias” as well as Laurence Olivier’s copy of The Cenci (he once contemplated a production). There are also a few Shelleyean relics, some cute and some a little bizarre: the poet’s gold-chased baby rattle, his Neapolitan guitar (see “With a Guitar, to Jane”), and some fragments of skull that survived his cremation near Viareggio. —Robyn Creswell

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of dark and sensual feminist fairy tales based on traditional legends, has me spellbound. —Elizabeth Nelson

The entire collection of love letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were put online earlier this month. They aren’t exactly tied in a pink ribbon, but they are fascinating to browse. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

This Is Not a Film, a collaboration between Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtamhmasb, opened this week in New York. Made right before Panahi was sent to an Iranian prison on a six-year stint for antigovernment propaganda, the movie is a portrait of a filmmaker in crisis, a yawp over the roofs of the world. —Josh Anderson

I’m just saying: The Room is playing this Saturday at Landmark Sunshine. Get your spoons out. —S.S.



  1. SalParadise | March 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Tommy Wiseau is a genius ahead of his time. We but deign to understand the subtle complexities that riddle The Room

  2. Mara N | March 6, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I was studying art in Chicago right about the time that Darger’s scrolls were revealed to the general public. It was probably the most memorable experience that I’ve ever had in discovering the work of an artist. To see so many of his pieces exhibited at once- double sided scrolls pinched in plexiglass, floating from the ceiling and over pedestals. It was quite extraordinary and I had a sublime experience that was almost overwhelming. It is rather ironic now… that after the artist had kept his work locked up throughout his life, to have it then be exposed in an extraordinary (and yes, magical) show to the general public… for it to once again be put under lock and key at the Henry Darger “Study Center” at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. Unaccessible to most people, the center accepts only a few pleading artists a year to peek and learn briefly about Darger’s work. A museum that was about to close until recently for its poorly managed funds and lack of visitors. I don’t know how many people I sent there to see Darger’s work, only for them to be disappointed at not being able to appreciate hardly anything. If the American Folk Art Museum could realize what a treasure trove they have- they could draw in so many more people seeking to have a personal experience with Darger’s work. But alas… that’s only my opinion.

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