Monday, April 26, 2010

Tim Burton at MOMA

Last Thursday I was fortunate enough to take in the extensive Tim Burton show at  the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. The show which ran from November 22, 2009 ends today.

It took me over three hours to examine everything on display. Some of this was because the show was packed with attendees, but mainly it was because the show was packed with art. Paintings, drawings, writings, childhood ephemera, and television screens covered the walls as did sculptures. There were also more sculptures on display throughout, movie props, stop motion animation puppets, costumes, storyboards and concept art by artists working on Burton's movies and more.

I watched every bit of film being shown (except for VINCENT, which I've seen many, many times) and was happy to see movies he did as a kid (two of which were uncannily close to movies I did as a kid), as a Cal Arts student (including STALK OF THE CELERY MONSTER), HANSEL AND GRETEL, some STAIN BOY cartoons. commercials and a music video,  and some stop motion test footage from MARS ATTACKS!. As you'd expect, his juvenile efforts were, well, juvenile, but amazingly already exhibited much of the themes, content, and visual imagery that would later become staples of the Tim Burton "look."

I couldn't hazard a guess at how many pieces of two dimensional artwork were on display, but it was easily in the hundreds. Again, pieces ranged from juvenilia such as a pencil portrait of Vincent Price done in High School, and some art that won him contests and were featured in local advertising, including anti-littering signs mounted to the sides of Burbank's garbage trucks. Unlike his early movies, his early art style was clearly based on Dr. Seuss, and then through a Gerald Scarfe/Ralph Steadman phase until it became purely his own. It pained me a bit to encounter three pieces in the show that I nearly bought when I lived in Los Angeles. I definitely felt some heavy twangs of non-buyer's remorse.

Props on display included stop motion puppets from VINCENT, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, THE CORPSE BRIDE, and MARS ATTACKS! It was particularly exciting to see the puppets from VINCENT even in their decayed state. The level of detail on the puppets for TNMBC and TCB was astonishing. Photographs don't do them justice. Also on display were a pair of severed heads, a scarecrow, and the Headless Horseman's cape from SLEEPY HOLLOW, various helmets from PLANET OF THE APES, the razors from SWEENEY TODD, a cookie cutter robot and the full costume of the title character from EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, three of BATMAN's cowls, Catwoman's costume and the baby carriage that carried an infant Penguin in BATMAN RETURNS, the funhouse door and angora sweater from ED WOOD, striped elongated sleeves and a prop newspaper from BEETLEJUICE, a clock from HANSEL AND GRETEL and the above animatronic figures from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

The exhibit also included some original sculptures made by Burton and others by collaborators, as well as a large, dark Christmas themed Stainboy diorama with music by Danny Elfman.

The exhibition space was also well designed with a fantastic themed entry way which can be seen a couple posts back. While the majority of the exhibit was housed on MOMA's third floor, more of it spilled into the rest of the museum including a replica of one of the topiary animals from EDWARD SCISSORHANDS in the sculpture garden, a gigantic inflatable "Balloon Boy" on the main floor, a gallery of movie posters, some more three dimensional pieces and oversized polaroid photos in the basement. the museum also ran Tim Burton's movies and movies that shaped him such as JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

Only two things disappointed me. I was hoping to see more of Burton's photography. I know there's a lot more of it than what was on exhibit, and had hoped it was going to be included. Also, the exhibit had a strictly enforced "no photography' policy and the guards were alert and quick in coming down on anyone trying to get around that. There is an excellent book that accompanies this exhibit, well worth the price (and except for the MOMA store, only available at the website linked here), and crammed with Burton's two dimensional art from the exhibit, but not including images of any of the three dimensional pieces, or pre-production art by others. I would have loved to have taken a few shots of the props and animation puppets, or at least seen a companion volume that included all of these as a nice alternative to missing out on taking photos.

The photos shown in this post were all taken from elsewhere on the web, mostly from press coverage of the exhibit. I apologize for not citing where I found them. I grabbed these initially for my own personal use as a substitute for being unable to take any of my own, without noting where they came from not originally intending to post about the exhibit. I am including some of them here for illustrative purposes. If any of these photos belong to anyone reading this, please email me, or comment below, and I'll happily credit you. 

So, did I have a favorite piece in the exhibit, and what was it?  You can see it below. It's called "Carousel" based on a pastel on black paper piece of art, which in turn is reminiscent of Beetlejuice's circus tent costume with carousel hat. It spins, it lights up, it has music, it's otherworldly, it's amazing. 

For more photos of Carousel, including detail pictures of all of the creatures hanging from it, as well as a thorough documentation of the setting up of the complete exhibit, take a look at this fantastic series of photos on flickr.



Strange Kid said...

I have to admit, John, I'm more than a little jealous. Haha. Looks like it was a phenomenal exhibition!

ShellHawk said...

I wish I could be go! Thanks for sharing this with us!