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I Saw Tim Burton’s Retrospective at the MoMA (and it looked…like…THIS!)

April 14, 2010

I have to confess, I have a real soft spot for Tim Burton.  Perhaps it’s the nostalgia talking, but I have big love for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands – not to mention Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow, both of which are among my very favorite films.  Burton has such a distinctive visual style, whether his films are live-action, drawn animation or stop motion – they are often instantly recognizable as his.

I really cotton to his aesthetic and was very excited to be able to catch Tim Burton’s retrospective exhibit at the MoMA in New York City this weekend.  The show, which features Burton’s sketches, notes, drawings, paintings, animated shorts, film props and costumes, maquettes, photographs and concept art – date back to his childhood up to present time. To enter the exhibit, one first passes through a giant, open-mouthed, Burton-esque face before walking through a narrow hallway (painted in black and white stripes, naturally) which showcases several screens running his animated works.  The fun-house effect stops there, unfortunately, as you are abruptly deposited in a large, difficult to negotiate room that is organized in the Pell Mell fashion.  If I have one complaint about the exhibition, it is that the work – which was splendid and so much fun to see – suffered from poor presentation.  I can only imagine what a daunting task it must have been for the curators given the sheer volume and diversity of Tim Burton’s work, but walking through the rooms was incredibly overwhelming – frankly, the exhibit felt disjointed and a bit on the janky side.

I was delighted to see Large Marge’s popping eyeballs on display, as well as several Corpse Bride and Oyster Boy puppets - all of which were protected by a glass vitrine so that they could be viewed in the round.  Sadly, other film props did not receive the same treatment – The Headless Horseman’s cloak was just kind of stuck against a wall ( lazily lumped along with other costumery and props from Batman, Batman Returns and Edward Scissorhands) and it was such a shame, since the piece itself was so intricate and beautifully made – it deserved a better means for showcasing the craftsmanship.  As for the 2-D artwork, which was organized by both the time during which it was made as well as the projects involved in their inception, the general layout was confusing.   Pieces were hung in the salon style (which can be an advantage in some instances) but this work was very small in scale and finely detailed –  it did little to promote these strengths and was difficult to view as a result.  I can’t help but think how much more enjoyable an experience it could have been had the exhibit been treated with the same care and thoughtful presentation that was given to the entrance of the show.

That said though, the work itself was pretty great.  I particularly loved seeing the drawings, paintings and puppets in person.  Burton, who graduated from CalArts and for a time was employed at Walt Disney Production animation studios, is an incredible draughtsman and illustrator.  His dark sense of humor and expression of melancholy was apparent in his earliest work and it was interesting to see his artistic vision progress and evolve into other mediums as well.  The exhibit, which runs until April 26, 2010 is definitely worth seeing if you are able.   For more information about the show, you can visit here.

appropriately camoflauged for the exhibit



6 Responses to “ I Saw Tim Burton’s Retrospective at the MoMA (and it looked…like…THIS!) ”

  1. Sara on April 14, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Oooooo…a lot of it sounds so Edward Gorey-like. Deliciously creeptor review.

  2. Pancake on April 14, 2010 at 7:43 am

    It was!! I loved his drawings especially for the Gorey-ness! It was PURTAY!

  3. anncine on April 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Sheer awesomeness…”And when they pulled his body from the flaming, twisted wreck, HE LOOKED LIKE THIS!”

  4. Sara on April 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Clearly, he ‘expired’.

  5. Pancake on April 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Anne – when you come visit we are going to have to watch Pee-wee. And Tron. And probably A Nightmare on Elm Street….

  6. Molly Moore on May 19, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Tim Burton has a unique style when making his movie. I love Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands.~.,