Feature

Exhibit of the week: Tim Burton

The retrospective of the artist's work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a treasure trove of original sketches, movie clips, and set memorabilia.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Through Oct. 31

Fans of Tim Burton, prepare to be wowed, said Chris Nichols in Los Angeles. LACMA’s sprawling retrospective tribute to the filmmaker-artist behind such kooky cinematic hits as Beetlejuice and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a treasure trove of original sketches, movie clips, and set memorabilia. “It’s wonderful and surreal to see the angora sweater from Ed Wood or a rubber cowl from Batman so beautifully lit and fussed over.” The leather-and-steel suit that Johnny Depp wore in Edward Scissorhands gets the royal treatment, “placed high on a pedestal in an imperial pose.” Atmospherically, the show is pitched perfectly to Burton’s distinctive aesthetic. “A Day-Glo carousel spins in a dark room, an enormous sand worm lurks overhead, and every clown is more evil than the last.”

The atmosphere never gets seriously frightening, said L.J. Williamson in LA Weekly. Burton’s “dark-but-not-too-dark vision” is key to his popularity as a movie director: “Just like Halloween,” he “gives us some of the scary stuff, but then soothes us with candy.” The display of heads from The Nightmare Before Christmas is a “reminder of Burton’s uncommon ability to turn a skull into something so adorable you’d pinch its cheeks, if it had any.” His other favorite ploy is to turn cute things scary, like “the Kewpie-doll figures that melt and burst into flames” at the start of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If his work invites one criticism, it’s that the tricks never vary, said Gina McIntyre in the Los Angeles Times. A fairy-tale land “cloaked in German expressionist shadows”? Check. Good-hearted misfits? Check. Must be a Burton film.

That “distinctive visual style” makes Burton’s oeuvre ripe for retrospective treatment, said Christopher Knight, also in the Times. Sadly, a lack of curatorial discipline waters down the experience. This show, which originated at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, “should be effervescent.”  Instead, it’s “a monotonous plod”—and at least three times larger than it needs to be. One particularly overwrought gallery has a wall “covered with 70 drawings—70!—most of them preceding 1985’s Pee-wee. I can’t think of a single painter or sculptor whose retrospective would benefit from such a presentation, especially dating from before the artist’s breakthrough.” I don’t care how effective a filmmaker has been in smuggling an outsider aesthetic into mainstream cinema: 700 objects is overkill. “It takes great editing to make a great movie.” As it turns out, the same goes for creating an exhibition about the movies.

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