HENRY DARGER’S “REALMS OF THE UNREAL”—BUT WHO IN THE REALM IS KIYOKO LERNER?

Westby, Elyssa | March 3, 2019

In 1973, Henry Darger died in Cook County, Illinois, leaving behind a body of drawings, paintings, and collages that has since risen to international prominence as outsider art. While Darger is a household name in the art world, Kiyoko Lerner–the widow of Darger’s last landlord, Nathan Lerner–is the listed owner on the Darger copyrights since the late 1990s. This note explores the curious case of Henry Darger’s copyrights and how Lerner’s ownership is likely invalid under legal theories of estate, gift, and landlord-tenant transfer. The case of the late photographer Vivian Maier’s estate, currently subject to legal challenge in Cook County, Illinois, serves as a prescient example of invalid copyright transfer upon discovery of an outsider artist’s work.