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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

Tim Burton at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC: spooky cool

It’s hard to think of another filmmaker who’d have the kind of history of creative output necessary to fill out an art exhibition like the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective on the works of Tim Burton (now through April 26, 2010). Film screenings, sure — and MOMA’s got that, too, all 14 of Burton’s features on a big screen on a varying schedule for the duration of the exhibition — but a huge chunk of MOMA’s third floor has been given over to a showcase of Burton’s sketches, drawings, sculptures, paintings, short films, and other artistic ephemera, some of it dating back to his childhood.

The man is clearly a packrat, or, as curator Ron Magliozzi noted wryly and more kindly in his opening remarks during a recent press preview of the exhibit, his own best archivist. And how wonderful for us. Because this mesmerizing look at Burton’s creative development is an extraordinary portrait of him not as a filmmaker per se but as an artist whose strange and wonderful visions sometimes manifest themselves on film.

Enter through the big scary mouth, and inside is a dark wonderland the likes of which Burton has been showing us on film for the last 25 years. He’s been living it for far longer: the earliest pieces in the generally chronological exhibit take us back to his teen years in Southern California — “Surviving Burbank,” the early years are snarkily dubbed here — when he designed an award-winning anti-littering sign and posters for the film retrospectives he helped organize. But it’s the survey of Burton’s imagination across decades that’s so fascinating. The things that fascinated and horrified him as a kid (this one dates from 1970–1978):

are the same things that were attracting him in the 1990s:

Later, there are props and costumes representing Burton’s vision…

…and conceptual sketches (some actually drawn on napkins):

Burton also created seven new works of art for the exhibit, including this one, inspired by his series of shorts, The World of Stainboy:


And this one, which is huge, lit by blacklight, and moves like the carousel it looks like:

If you’re a Burton fan, there’s no doubt that you’ll love this exhibit. But even if you aren’t, you may find it intriguing for how it peels away the onion layers that an artist is wrapped up in.

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