“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality,” iconic director Tim Burton once said. And if you happen to find yourself in MoMA’s fall/winter exhibit “Tim Burton,” you’ll discover Burton’s reality is pretty crazy.
“Tim Burton” is a ground-breaking and staggering exhibit. Ground-breaking because it’s the first time a major fine arts museum is exhibiting Burton’s non-cinematic work — the first time a Hollywood A-list director is being elevated to the status of fine artist. Staggering because there are so many doodles and drawings to peruse. There are hundreds of parts and their sum is a weighty and intimate look into the relentless imagination of one our generation’s best-loved filmmakers.
NYTimes critic Ken Johnson clearly doesn’t believe a museum like MoMA should be using gallery space on an artist like Tim Burton… because Burton isn’t a graphic artist, he’s a filmmaker. Leave him in the theaters, is essentially Johnson’s message. “To be a popular Hollywood moviemaker and to be an interesting fine artist in today’s terms are very different propositions” he writes, “and it’s no knock on Mr. Burton that he’s not great at both. Nobody is that good.” Johnson had some excellent points in his review — indeed, the exhibition could have done with about a hundred fewer drawings (I believe there are upwards of 400 hundred) — but to call it a “letdown” means he had the wrong expectations.
The majority of the works are cultivated from Burton’s personal sketchbooks and private collection. The reality is, these hundreds of drawings, doodles and cartoons were never meant for public display. With this in mind, they are not so much works of fine art as they are a visualized stream of consciousness.
If you’ve ever seen a Burton film — which unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen at least 3 — then you’re already familiar with his gothic and distorted figures. Proportions are stretched and shrunk, edges are sharp and humour is black.
It’s hard in this economic climate not to look at an exhibit like “Tim Burton” without questioning MoMA’s integrity. Museums have cut their operating budgets, endowments and donations are down. But before “Tim Burton” even opened, MoMA had sold out of its first printing of the exhibition’s catalog. Lines have already been forming round the block of people waiting to pay the $20 admissions fee to the museum. It’s the jackpot exhibit every museum hopes for.
But regardless about how you feel about MoMA and Burton and fine art, “Tim Burton” is a special. Sure we can go over the exhibit’s shortcomings. But I think that’s just silly. MoMA should be praised for having the balls to weather the naysayers that thought mounting such an exhibit was contrary to its mission. And let’s be honest, the greatest measure of the success of an exhibit is its popularity. The number of people flocking to the 3rd floor are testament enough — “Tim Burton” is brilliant.