NEW YORK, NY—Surrealist and multi-media artist Tim Burton is the subject of a major exhibition at New York City’s MoMA that must be seen by everyone interested in pop culture. Attendance is overwhelming and it requires reservations well in advance. One of the first things one notices is the enormous body of work that he has churned out over the years. Known mainly for motion pictures like Mars Attacks and Batman which feature his eccentric design style, Burton is revealed to be an amazingly prolific and gifted with ink and with paint, on paper and on canvas, since very early in his life. Just as his movies seem to want to bridge the gap between child-like innocence and true horror, so too his witty and light-hearted drawings are filled with fantasy creatures that have dislocated eyeballs and with predatory clowns menacing with pointy teeth. Some of these have been translated by sculptors into jaw-dropping constructions and assemblages.
The lightly-colored pen-and-ink drawings include recognizable personalities such as Joey Ramone, Vincent Price and Alice Cooper. Others are anonymous humans with distorted body parts, aggressive toys or nightmarish yet comical fantasy-creatures. They are typically composed of weirdly proportioned, wiggly shapes that might have been drawn by Aubrey Beardsley intoxicated with absinthe, or by Edward Gorey if he executed them with his left hand. Many are hilarious visual puns. One entitled “Tongue-twister” displays a creature maliciously twisting a man’s tongue as if wringing out a wash rag.
More than 700 pieces are on exhibit and include concept drawings for the characters in his movies, recognizable iconic mannequins, costumes and statuettes from both his animated and his live-action films. Among them are Catwoman’s costume, a life-sized effigy of Edward Scissorhands, and numerous statuettes representing the various creatures in the stop-action movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The monstrous, menacing Jack O’Lantern from Nightmare hovers 10 feet above the milling crowd of spectators and a crude ape-head with wooden-branch antlers from Planet Of The Apes is mounted high on a wall evoking the feeling of strange otherworldliness.
This exhibition tells us much about post-modern culture, about ourselves and about the creative process. Tim Burton has spent a lifetime arduously and playfully exploring the borderland between the naive fun and the malignant fears of childhood which continue to haunt us well into adulthood.