POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Tim Burton, Untitled (True Love), 1981-83, pen and ink, watercolor wash, and colored pencil on paper, 12×14 inches, Private collection. Image via: MoMA.org
It’s great MoMA doesn’t make museum members wait to get into the Tim Burton exhibition with the rest of us unwashed masses, but it would be nice if they didn’t constantly rub your nose in it. I spent a good deal of time waiting with the regular people to walk through the theme-park-esque monster of an entrance this weekend, listening to attendees shout out, every two to three minutes, words about who was and wasn’t going to get in quickly. I’m pretty sure a sign would have sufficed.
Frankly, the exhibition was a bit of a disappointment, though not without highlights. Even if the show feels a bit too much like visiting Universal Studios, the decision to place a series of Burton’s paintings and sculptures under black light at the beginning of the show was a stroke of genius. It looked great, which is a feat, because many of those works would not have fared well under scrutiny in regular lighting conditions.
I know this, not only because pictures looked as though they might not be particularly well painted, but because so many images throughout the larger exhibition were poorly executed. Granted, I might not have enjoyed the work even if it were consistently good — I’m not a fan of salon show style hanging to begin with — but the hanging especially irritates when there’s clearly no purpose in including every sketch the artist ever made. Too often the images did little more than demonstrate the artist’s prolific production and frequently tedious sameness, as opposed to illuminating Burton’s progression over the years. His paintings in particular could have been almost entirely eliminated, the various Untitled Clowns and a Hieronymus Bosch inspired painting Saucer and Aliens, 1970-78, looking not much different than anything you’d see from comic book students.
The crux of the show, as told by the curators, rests on Burton’s upbringing in Burbank California. “He never felt at home there,” the press release reads, “and so – self-reliant and possessed of a relentless imagination – he consoled himself with the pleasures of drawing and humor…” Indeed his work features an unusual number of outcast characters, uniquely charming in their often depraved loneliness. The most interesting moments in this show occur when the drawings or sculptures reveal character development (or lack there of) that for one reason or another never made it into his movie. For example, one of Burton’s renderings of a sad and pathetic Penguin character for Batman Returns, is far more sympathetic than was ever developed in the movie. In contrast to this, just across the room, a series of scissor-hand drawings for Edward Scissorhands show early inferior renderings, as well as the final version. Both are fascinating.
It was a lot of work, however, to even catch a glimpse of the art given the number of visitors. I guess this is what I get for visiting on a holiday weekend, but I’m sure I’m not the only art professional in town with relatives interested in seeing that show. In the end, I simply left wondering which scenario would be more annoying: If the walls had only been covered with Burton’s best work and I had to struggle to see it, or viewing the exhibition as it was, which meant fighting to see a bunch of art, half of which I knew wasn’t worth the time.
Editor’s note: While I appreciate the thoroughness of MoMA’s website, it would be nice if it weren’t all in flash. Nobody likes waiting for images “to load” and they are impossible to link to.