Dale Henry ( 1931 – 2011 ) was a productive and respected artist in New York from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He showed in non-profit institutions and alternative art spaces including the Clocktower Gallery and MoMA PS1 (then the Institute for Art and Urban Resources), and in the well-regarded John Weber Gallery. He taught at the School of Visual Arts.
Henry became disenchanted with the commercialization of the art world, and felt under- appreciated by critics, dealers, and even his peers. In 1986, he permanently left New York for the rural town of Cartersville, Virginia. For an emerging artist, to leave New York was to risk being forgotten, and this issue haunted Henry for the rest of his life. Beginning in the early 2000s, he unsuccessfully approached curators, including Clocktower and PS1 Founder Alanna Heiss, and artist friends including Robert and Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Marcia Hafif, to undertake responsibility for his work and legacy.
In the fall of 2011, Heiss received a letter from Henry’s lawyer revealing that the artist had bequeathed his entire oeuvre to her, with a modest sum of money to carry out curatorial projects at her discretion, with the proviso that the work remain outside of the art market. Should Heiss decline the bequest, the lawyer had explicit instructions to destroy the works. Heiss visited Henry’s studio in Virginia, and found his work unusual and compelling. She consulted Henry’s peers, including Hafif and the sculptor Richard Nonas, who remarked on the relevance of the ideas and processes Henry was exploring at the time. Heiss decided to take on the unusual task.