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Another Warhol? MoMA Hails the ‘Hidden’ Work of Tim Burton

Another Warhol? MoMA Hails the 'Hidden' Work of Tim Burton

“I didn’t grow up in a real museum culture,” filmmaker Tim Burton confessed today at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan. “I think the Hollywood Wax Museum was my first museum.” Reflecting on a five-month exhibition of his work that will fill MoMA’s third floor and theaters this fall. Burton spoke of his early work mainly sprouting from having watched television as a kid.

“I got more out of Beverly Hillbillies than Eric Rohmer,” he added, noting that watching Eastern European animation on television on Sunday mornings also would shape his early creativity until he began to seek out other work.

Running from November 22, 2009 through April 26, 2010, the expansive exhibition will feature more than 700 drawings, paintings, storyboards, clips, puppets, maquettes, costumes, and more, much of it previously unseen. Also on tap are retrospectve screenings of his films and a series of work that influenced, inspired or intrigued him, ranging from “Jason and the Argonauts” (Don Chaffey, 1963), “Frankenstein” (James Whale, 1931), “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (Robert Wiene, 1920) and “The Pit and the Pendulum” (Roger Corman, 1961), “Nosferatu” (F. W. Murnau, 1922), to “Earthquake” (Mark Robson, 1974).

Discussing the upcoming show today, Museum Director Glenn D. Lowry and curator Ron Magliozzi hailed Burton as a modern Andy Warhol whose art spans many disciplines, the difference being that much of it has not been scene before.

“So much of Warhols [work] is well known,” Magliozzi said, “So lillte of Tim’s has been seen.” Picking up on the thread, a journalist asked Burton what his mother might think of the comparison. He paused and then quipped, “She’d go, ‘who’s Warhol?'”

Blue Girl with Wine (c. 1997) by Tim Burton. Oil on canvas, 28 x 22″ (71.1 x 55.9 cm). Private Collection. © 2009 Tim Burton

“Knowing Tim’s work now, as I’ve had an opportunity to experience the full scope and range of his productivity, I certainly think that the comparison is valid,” chief curator Raj Roy told indieWIRE this afternoon, when asked to comment on the link between Warhol and Burton.

“I think that just as Warhol never really had mainstream crossover success in the film world, Tim may never fully crossover in the art world; but that almost has more to do with their success and stature in their ‘first fields’ than with whether or not they merit acclaim in both worlds.  People like to put artists in categories, especially when commerce is involved.  If the MoMA show can help expose Tim Burton as a great artist in a variety of media, I’d be thrilled.” 

Born in Burbank, CA in 1958, Tim Burton began drawing as a kid and later attended Cal Arts before working in animation at Disney. His films include “Vincent” (1982), “Frankenweenie” (1984) “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985), “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Batman Returns (1992), The Nightmare Before Christmas” (as creator and producer) (1993), “Ed Wood” (1994), “Mars Attacks!” (1996), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “Big Fish” (2003), “Corpse Bride” (2005), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), and “Sweeney Todd” (2007), while his writing and Web projects include “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories” (1997) and “Stainboy” (2000). The exhibition leads into the Disney release of his next feature, “Alice in Wonderland.”

Teasing the Burton show this morning, MoMA screened a piece of Burton’s rarely seen 1983 adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel.” The clip features a witch with a candy cane hook nose at odds with the young siblings, portraryed by two Asian children.

“If you think I’m tasty and you want my body, come on Hansel take a bite,” lures a decapitated gingerbread character in Burton’s “Hansel and Gretel,” evoking the late ’70s Rod Stewart song, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” “Finish me!” the cookie screams.

“It’s hard to believe that ever played on the Disney Channel,” Burton laughed after the clip was shown. It was screened on video because, according to MoMA curators, no film prints exist. “The reason they don’t have a copy is because I tried to burn them all myself,” he added later. “Those things were never meant to be seen.”

“Works from the cinema are essential works of art that need to be collected and preserved,” MoMA’s Glenn Lowry said in an introduction to the hour-long presentation.

Calling the exhibition the “most comprehensive monographic show,” Lowry reitered MoMA’s history of examining the work of filmmakers, starting wth an exhibition of the work of George Melies in 1939 and continuing through the popular recent presentation of a Pixar exhibition a few years ago.

Many of the drawings and artwork to be included were part of an ongoing visual journaly that Burton has kept. Going back and looking at the work he said he has been re-energized and was surprised at the connections and re-appearance of certain imagery in his later work.

He said of the exhibition, “It’s more about the process and ideas, than film and art.”

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