New Lawsuit Says Henry Darger's Landlords Have No Right to His Art - ARTnews.com

New Lawsuit Says Henry Darger’s Landlords Have No Right to His Art – ARTnews.com | Pro Club Bd

The legal battle over misfit artist Henry Darger’s lucrative legacy has taken a new turn. A distant relative of the artist and the Estate of Henry Joseph Darger have filed a lawsuit against Darger’s former landlords, who have long cared for the artist’s work. You are accused of copyright infringement, among a host of other wrongdoings.

The lawsuit alleges that Kiyoko Lerner and her late husband Nathan illegally profited from Darger’s art and writings for decades, including his famous 15,000-page illustrated manuscript In the Realms of the Unreal, despite no credible proof of ownership.

In 1972, Darger, a retired caretaker from Chicago, moved from his one-bedroom rented apartment of 40 years to St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged. When the Lerners, his landlords, came to vacate the room, they found hundreds of drawings, watercolors, and collages collected in haphazardly assembled albums. Darger died a year later at the age of 81. Shortly after his death, the Lerners began promoting and selling his work.

For nearly 40 years, the Lerners have maintained that Darger gave Nathan the contents of his apartment in a verbal agreement sometime in 1972; Nathan then gave them to Kiyoko, they said. They also claimed that as Darger prepared to move into the nursing home, they asked him if he would like to keep anything in his apartment. In her narration, Darger replied, “I don’t have anything I need in the room. it’s all yours You can throw anything away.” Her promotion of his work is credited to Darger’s posthumous celebration as a visionary outsider artist.

Darger never married, had no children, and died with no immediate surviving relatives and no will.

The new lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Chicago, alleges the Lerners have no legal interest in his inheritance and face consequences if they benefit from it. The Lerners “have made hundreds of millions of dollars from the unauthorized exploitation of Darger’s works,” according to the complaint.

The complaint contains a battery of alleged wrongdoings, including deceptive trade practices, unfair competition, public display, distribution, illegal branding of certain works, among “other violations of federal and state laws.” Kiyoko Lerner has also been accused of “anticybersquatting” (registering a branded domain name with the intention of making a profit) for “officialhenrydarger.com”. The website features a detailed biography of Darger, as well as reproductions of his art and writings, accompanied by a warning that “Images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted, or manipulated without the written permission of Kiyoko Lerner.”

The lawsuit comes six months after a group of alleged Darger relatives asserted a legal claim to his inheritance. The relatives, many of them distant cousins ​​on multiple occasions, filed a lawsuit in an Illinois probate court in January to be declared heirs to his estate. They claim that the landlords had no right to share or sell Darger’s art. The lawsuit is ongoing. That summer, the probate division of a Chicago court agreed to make lead plaintiff and family representative Christen Sadowski the “supervised custodian of the estate.” According to the court, Sadowski is now “authorized to take possession of and confiscate the assets of the estate, including its copyrights and personal interests.”

The Lerners, who both had connections to the art world, brought the work to the attention of Chicago collector and art patron Ruth Horwich, who helped organize Darger’s first exhibition in 1977. She gained wide recognition in the 1990s with a solo show at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. In 2008, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art opened in Chicago, a permanent exhibition dedicated to the contents of Darger’s home and workspace.

The most significant – and coveted – entries in Darger’s oeuvre are pages from seven hand-bound novels about British schoolgirls setting out in a fantasy world ravaged by warring nations and child exploitation. It has a long title – The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Know as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion – and a disturbing juxtaposition of cheerful colors and frequent episodes of child abuse and murder. Scholarship has spilled over the story’s allegorical meaning: Darger, who described himself as a “protector” of children in his biography, was an orphan and institutionalized at a young age because of behavior problems.

The enigmatic artist’s popularity and market value have continued to rise. In 2019, Christie’s sold a double-page illustration of In the realms of the unreal for $684,500, well above the estimate of $500,000 cited in the lawsuit as evidence that the Lerners benefited from Darger’s work.

If the Lerners are found to have broken the law, they could be ordered to reclaim the proceeds of Darger’s estate, but given the separate lawsuit brought by Darger’s potential heirs, it’s unclear how the profits would be divided.

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