Into the Maw

By some fortuitous alignment of the art museum planets I turned up to LACMA on Saturday to discover that in addition to The Mourners, there was a retrospective of Tim Burton’s works. The snaking queues of goths and punks standing patiently in the midday sun while damply clutching their timed tickets should have been a dead giveaway. After making my way slowly around the exquisite Mourners exhibition and pondering which little alabaster dude I would hypothetically take home with me, taking a breather to have a cocktail, and then joining said snaking queue I elbowed my way into and around the Tim Burton show. Seriously, there were a lot of people. There were also a lot of objects on display. As the press release notes:

The exhibition brings together over 700 drawings, paintings, photographs, moving-image works, storyboards, puppets, concept artworks, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera, including art from a number of unrealized and little-known personal projects.

Or, as I said to my friend E.B. at the time, “It’s like an entire archive threw up on the walls.”

I’m in multiple minds about the how well the exhibition was put together. On the one hand, there was an enormous amount of material with very little narration beyond brief wall labels outlining each stage in the development of Tim Burton’s oeuvre. The works themselves were fascinating, if a little overwhelming in quantity. I think I wanted both less and more. Fewer art works and more exposition of Burton’s artistic process. There were some magnificent examples of costume design from his films, fascinating snippets and short films, plus the incredible puppets from his stop animation work. I would have loved to learn in greater detail about the relationships and processes behind the films. How Burton went from a scribble on a bar napkin to a fully realized feature film in consultation with a team of costume and set designers, composers and model makers.

On the other hand, there was something delightfully Burtonesque about the experience. At the entrance to the show the viewer is sucked into a spinning vortex through a giant, snaggle-toothed, wild-eyed maw. Looming, blackened creatures turn their beady, sculpted eyes toward you as you make your way through the first room. Inside, every inch of wall space is covered in demented sketches. One lightless room contains a carousel painted with glow-in-the-dark patterns that spins in a nightmare version of the child’s fairground ride. The curators have managed to reproduce perfectly the experience of walking through Burton’s brilliant and bizarre brain with little to guide  the viewer’s way through its twisting paths.

On yet another hand, (Its Tim Burton – I think I’m allowed more than two hands) there something about the way the exhibition has contrived this surreal viewer experience that serves to bolster a carefully manufactured image of the artist as genius of the modern gothic without giving real insight into his artistic process. The exhibition seems to want us to believe the artist’s self-mythologizing. To believe that his creations spring forth, almost with a will of their own, from the strange dreamscapes of his mind and onto the page or into the film cell.

These musings on the myth of the artist aside, my fourth hand says that I will certainly go back at least once more, probably multiple times. Hopefully if I make it out on a weekday, with fewer crowds around I will be able to spend a little more time with the objects and have a more productive experience. And one that involves fewer tattooed elbows jostling me out of the way of all the wall labels.

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~ by medievalness on June 21, 2011.

One Response to “Into the Maw”

  1. I think I may have to go with you to help count your impressive number of mental hands

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