Struggling to See Tim Burton at MoMA

by Art Fag City on November 30, 2009 · 16 comments Reviews

POST BY PADDY JOHNSONart fag city, tim burton
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.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Thanks for this report. In the future museums will only show the sets and sketches of famous filmmakers as art…oh, wait, they already are. The breakdown of all categories in the arts means what was previously classed as “mere illustration” will now be “A” list material. Nothing inherently wrong with that but very convenient for the industries that are trying to market the illustrators and also the museums trying to increase foot traffic–so your increased scrutiny is appreciated. Burton’s medium is film, not gallery walls, but who cares? For what it’s worth, his drawing above is derivative of full-time illustrator Ronald Searle: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&source=hp&q=%22ronald+searle%22&gbv=2&aq=f&oq=&aqi=g1

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Thanks for this report. In the future museums will only show the sets and sketches of famous filmmakers as art…oh, wait, they already are. The breakdown of all categories in the arts means what was previously classed as “mere illustration” will now be “A” list material. Nothing inherently wrong with that but very convenient for the industries that are trying to market the illustrators and also the museums trying to increase foot traffic–so your increased scrutiny is appreciated. Burton’s medium is film, not gallery walls, but who cares? For what it’s worth, his drawing above is derivative of full-time illustrator Ronald Searle: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&source=hp&q=%22ronald+searle%22&gbv=2&aq=f&oq=&aqi=g1

  • http://seancapone.com Sean

    Is it explained why Burton warrants the full MoMA treatment and not a dozen or so other creative film or video game makers? In this vein, I’d much rather see a Studio Ghibli or a Final Fantasy retrospective (the painted art for these is incredible to look at), or, god help us, a John Carpenter or Terry Gilliam round up.

  • http://seancapone.com Sean

    Is it explained why Burton warrants the full MoMA treatment and not a dozen or so other creative film or video game makers? In this vein, I’d much rather see a Studio Ghibli or a Final Fantasy retrospective (the painted art for these is incredible to look at), or, god help us, a John Carpenter or Terry Gilliam round up.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    No. There’s almost no wall text anywhere. I never thought I’d say this, but in this case, I think that’s a huge problem. I mean, where’s the curatorial rigor in this show? These kinds of shows in particular require that.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    No. There’s almost no wall text anywhere. I never thought I’d say this, but in this case, I think that’s a huge problem. I mean, where’s the curatorial rigor in this show? These kinds of shows in particular require that.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Curatorial rigor: box office plus phone call.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Curatorial rigor: box office plus phone call.

  • http://alifeasart.blogspot.com/ Adam

    When I saw the term “pop surrealism” in some press release by MoMA, I was shocked they are adopting this term when they have been often hesitant to give these artists the time of day.

    I’d say check out the Robert Williams show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery if you want to see true “Pop Surrealism.” Here is my review of the show to get your appetites wet: http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/?page=article&article_id=1351&catID=3

    Robert Williams has been doing masterful paintings and drawings in the “Lowbrow” style when Tim Burton was just a toddler. Also his artwork retains far deeper conceptual relevance than Burton. Not that Tim Burton is a hack. He is one of my all time favorite directors. However, I don’t think that his artwork is all that great.

    Will Robert Williams ever get the red carpet treatment from the art world? Probably not…

  • http://alifeasart.blogspot.com/ Adam

    When I saw the term “pop surrealism” in some press release by MoMA, I was shocked they are adopting this term when they have been often hesitant to give these artists the time of day.

    I’d say check out the Robert Williams show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery if you want to see true “Pop Surrealism.” Here is my review of the show to get your appetites wet: http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/?page=article&article_id=1351&catID=3

    Robert Williams has been doing masterful paintings and drawings in the “Lowbrow” style when Tim Burton was just a toddler. Also his artwork retains far deeper conceptual relevance than Burton. Not that Tim Burton is a hack. He is one of my all time favorite directors. However, I don’t think that his artwork is all that great.

    Will Robert Williams ever get the red carpet treatment from the art world? Probably not…

  • Jane

    I hope Robert Williams never gets the “red carpet treatment” from the art world! (Not that Tim Burton deserves it either.) The whole Lowbrow/Pop Surrealism movement is based on an antagonistic relationship to the “fine” art world. Why should they have their cake (rebellious, anti-intellectual, outsider status) and eat it too (in the form of recognition from those stuffy art world academics they’re supposedly railing against)?

    Besides, Williams’ paintings are extremely misogynistic and he freely admits it (from wikipedia):

    “…I do not believe that my representation of females aids in their oppression. It is my artistic right to render the images of woman as my imagination sees fit. Remember, I will gladly accept the title “Bad Person” to continue my expression. In other words, nothing short of death will stop me from painting nekkid ladies…”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Williams_%28artist%29

  • Jane

    I hope Robert Williams never gets the “red carpet treatment” from the art world! (Not that Tim Burton deserves it either.) The whole Lowbrow/Pop Surrealism movement is based on an antagonistic relationship to the “fine” art world. Why should they have their cake (rebellious, anti-intellectual, outsider status) and eat it too (in the form of recognition from those stuffy art world academics they’re supposedly railing against)?

    Besides, Williams’ paintings are extremely misogynistic and he freely admits it (from wikipedia):

    “…I do not believe that my representation of females aids in their oppression. It is my artistic right to render the images of woman as my imagination sees fit. Remember, I will gladly accept the title “Bad Person” to continue my expression. In other words, nothing short of death will stop me from painting nekkid ladies…”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Williams_%28artist%29

  • http://postnonprofalyptic.blogspot.com/ Jeffrey

    I wholeheartedly agree with your criticisms about the accessibility to the work. The gallery setup, especially placement of the partitioned walls was not good at all. And there was an absolutely rotten guard on duty too.

  • http://postnonprofalyptic.blogspot.com/ Jeffrey

    I wholeheartedly agree with your criticisms about the accessibility to the work. The gallery setup, especially placement of the partitioned walls was not good at all. And there was an absolutely rotten guard on duty too.

  • http://stylembe.wordpress.com/ @SFranciscoTweet

    Remainds me of GIORGIO ARMANI at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2000-2001. What next?

  • http://stylembe.wordpress.com/ @SFranciscoTweet

    Remainds me of GIORGIO ARMANI at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2000-2001. What next?

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