Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tim Burton at MOMA

Tim Burton - Balloon Boy

Quite accidentally, on the weekend prior to Alice in Wonderland opening, I visited the Museum of Modern Art, where I saw Tim Burton’s solo exhibition. The affair was predictably overstuffed with works of wildly varying qualities. Adding insult to injury, crowd flow and accessibility of the works to even able bodied patrons lived down to my expectations. I do not question the museum-worthiness of his work up to a point. That said, there are some stinkers in the mix. You can certainly see how his ideas evolve and make their way into the films. I considered his technical skill to be admirable and I kept thinking about what he could do with print media, especially etching. But as stand alones, most of the works are sketches, and by definition, ideas which are not yet fully formed, only reinforcing the fact that Burton’s true art is the finished film. Of the film pieces installed in the gallery, mostly lesser known shorts and animations, they were again hard to access and devote one’s attention because of crowd overflow.

Some of the sketches are intriguing, and codify the influence on his work of movements such as Expressionism, Surrealism, and art of the Wiemar Republic. I also found myself constantly reminded of Odilon Redon, himself the subject of a wonderful retrospective at MOMA five years ago. There were groupings of studies for weird and deranged characters that never made the cut into a film, reminding me of Leonardo’s studies of grotesque heads and even Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s character busts. Burton’s debt to these art historical antecedents is tempered by the way he has extrapolated from them a style wholly his own.

As for the area that left me most disappointed with the overall artistic and curatorial quality of the show? The display of costume pieces and props—inclusive of things like Batman cowls, the Edward Scissorhands suit on a Johnny Depp mannequin, and an absolutely dreadful scarecrow from Sleepy Hollow—were more worthy of Planet Hollywood or Madame Tussaud’s.


  1. Sharp! Well, I agree with what you said about the display of the costume and the props from the movies. That made me wonder if I was back to Hollywood in LA. LOL!! And yes, most of the works there are sketches, and I think there were no "painting," but most of them are drawing on the papers or film clips. It's like what you said; it reinforced the fact that Burton’s true art is the finished film. But what I appreciated is his idea. I like the way he think toward the daily life stories and people. I love his twisting thoughts. I don't know much about the histroy or art, so it's really nice to see you analysis his style by giving a little bit background info. Nice comment!! :)

  2. @Miss Lucy,
    Thank you for leaving a comment! Truly, Mr. Burton has an amazing mind, crammed full of different ideas that are struggling to get out, and then take on lives of their own. It was valuable for our understanding of him and his true art (the film), to see his filtering process of how his complex characters and signature visual style makes it on to the cinema screen.