It certainly must feel strange for an isolated kid from the suburbs of California to have hundreds of his drawings and objects ensconced in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. No less so because he is known for his films rather than his drawings. Yet if the opening crowds are anything to judge by, most museum-goers are nothing but thrilled to see this exhaustive exhibition of 700+ works related to Tim Burton's career. The crowds are right, for the same aesthetic binds Burton's early work to his later films.
Face the crowds you must, if you want to wander through the strange byproducts of Burton's imaginative mind. MoMA created a great entrance: through the mouth of a monster you enter a black and white striped hall lined with TVs playing a series of Stainboy animations. Then you enter a dark room where a carousel turns to creepy carnival music and glow-in-the-dark paintings on black velvet stare out at you. Next you enter the well-lit, white-walled galleries of MoMA – but even here things don't return to normalcy. The walls are filled with hundreds of sketches of monsters and people on everything from canvas to cocktail napkins.
A dark humor pervades Burton's stark aesthetic as he humanizes monsters and robots into somehow appealing, vulnerable characters. The sketches on view, often related to films he subsequently made, are true to this style. A painting of a blue woman with skin stitched together predates his character Sally in the 1993 film Nightmare Before Christmas. Some of the captions are quite funny, such as the image of a man with a gun next to a crazed kerfluffle entitled "Never shoot a constipated poodle." To add to the melange, the floors and walls have models from his movies, such as standing monster figures and cuckoo clocks. If you don't mind the crowd bustling around you, you can stop to watch some of his early short films, like his 1982 take on "Hansel and Gretel."