This past Thanksgiving I had the privilege of taking part in a time-honored New York City tradition, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Posts tagged ‘Tim Burton’
The installation of the Tim Burton show took thirteen days, beginning on October 28, 2009, and ending (save some inevitable last-minute tweaking) on Friday, November 13. As the first institution given the opportunity to exhibit Burton’s unseen work, the urge to present a comprehensive selection was hard to resist. With 716 pieces of framed art, objects, and media to put in place, the pressure was on—especially since we knew that a series of special openings had been scheduled before the general public arrived: Tim’s private opening on November 16 for his friends and collaborators, a Department of Film benefit honoring Tim on November 17, and the opening reception on November 18. The realization that we would soon be hosting Johnny Depp, Danny Elfman, Helena Bonham Carter, Catherine O’Hara, Bo Welch, Glenn Shadix, Diane Wiest, Colleen Atwood, Danny DeVito, Jeffrey Jones, Crispin Glover, and others—not to mention Tim himself—added to the sense of excitement shared by everyone on the MoMA installation team.
Tim Burton was one of the most challenging exhibitions our graphic design department has had the pleasure of fully developing. It explores a wide spectrum of Tim Burton’s creative work, including drawings, paintings, photographs, moving images, concept art, storyboards, puppets, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera. For the exhibition graphic design, our goal was to take all these diverse visual references and distill them into a simple graphic treatment that celebrated Burton’s work.
It was love at first sight for Tim Burton and stop-motion animation. At an early age, Burton was drawn to films such as Nathan Juran’s 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and Don Chaffey’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which featured innovative animation by special effects master Ray Harryhausen. Burton responded to the sense of wonder the technique conjured in its audiences and was inspired to create his own stop-motion animated films, such as a 1971 super-8mm short featuring cavemen and dinosaur figures (on view in the MoMA gallery exhibition) that invokes When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970, directed by Val Guest, and animated by Jim Danforth).
We found Tim Burton in London. Just as was the case with the Museum’s Pixar exhibition in 2005, we discovered that he, too, held a body of work that had never before been seen by the public. In Tim’s case, there was childhood ephemera, high school papers, cartoons, early 8mm and 16mm amateur films, sketchbooks, drawings, verse, art for a number of unrealized film and book projects, work related to well-known feature films, and material cut from his 1997 book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy. Keeping things new and fresh would not be a major concern, and we recognized that we would be relying less on studio archives than we had originally expected. The obvious issues were what to select from a personal archive that contained close to 10,000 elements, and how to make sense of it all.
What’s so special about a “special” exhibition? For us, MoMA’s graphic designers, they’re special enough to require their own unique graphic identity, and oftentimes a unique identity is all in the letters. For two very different shows now on view at MoMA, Tim Burton and Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, we created two very different title typefaces.
This year’s Academy Awards telecast paid tribute to horror films—a genre cited by the presenters as often neglected by the Academy—with a clip reel that featured select masterworks of cinema by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Roman Polanski. As I watched the montage, I caught glimpses from Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Sleepy Hollow (1999). Although I found their inclusion to be a bit incongruous among films like The Exorcist, Carrie, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Ring, and The Blair Witch Project, it nevertheless reaffirmed the popular perception of Tim Burton as a dark, gothic, and macabre filmmaker. Certainly, with Tim’s affinity for skeletons, graveyards, severed heads, and iron maidens—some of the recurrent motifs in his work—the classification of his films into the horror genre would surprise few. However, I propose another genre to be considered when examining Tim’s oeuvre: the musical film.
The search for Tim Burton took us to four Hollywood studio archives, five independent production company collections, and four private lenders, exposing us to an interesting variety of archival situations. Studio archives are traditionally housed on the lots where their films and television programs are shot, or, if their collections are large enough and the demand great enough, in off-lot research centers and warehouses. When we visited Twentieth Century Fox and the Disney Corporate archives, we got to stroll the studio grounds, and we were hoping for a glimpse of a production in progress through the open door of a soundstage—readers who can recall Paul Reubens on a bicycle being chased around the Warner Bros lot at the end of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) will have a picture of the craziness we were expecting. But as it turned out, the lots were as quiet as an empty office park on summer weekends. Disney’s Animation Research Library is a sleek facility away from the studio, and the Warner Bros storage site is located in an industrial area. At each we were assigned teams of archive specialists who showed us carefully preserved art and film props. Half of the Los Angeles area sites we visited were in Tim’s hometown of Burbank, CA, which he used as a muse for such early films as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), so we made a particular point of soaking up the atmosphere of that city.
As we approach the midpoint of the five-month Tim Burton exhibition (November 22, 2009–April 26, 2010), I am reflecting on what may be our visitors’ first impressions of the show. Hopefully those who came to MoMA familiar with Tim’s films—whether they know him as the director responsible for cult favorite Edward Scissorhands (1990), the imaginative and innovative creator of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), the mischievous mind behind the irreverent Mars Attacks! (1996), or the filmmaker who brought the tale of tonsorial terror that is Sweeney Todd (2007) to the big screen—were pleasantly surprised to find another Tim Burton on display alongside the anticipated props and storyboards. Approximately 70 percent of the works in the exhibition had never been published or shown in public, and it is these works—projects both personal and professional, realized on paper and canvas, or via installations and sculptures—that give visitors a view of Tim as illustrator, cartoonist, photographer, and writer of verse, among other creative roles. These diverse works are united by their intimate, subjective nature; each conveys Tim’s distinctive way of viewing his world and the characters who populate it. The revelation of the private art of Tim Burton to MoMA’s visitors may be similar to my own personal revelation during our first meeting with Tim at his studio in London almost two years ago….
I like to compare the process of organizing a large-scale museum exhibition like Tim Burton to the process of producing a film. (What can I say, I’m a film person!) You start with an idea, and then research the subject as if you were writing a script—in the case of a gallery show, this means determining what art, objects, media, and documentation are available, and how they can most effectively be used to tell a “story.” Ideally, you want your interpretation of the materials to seem fresh and relevant to a contemporary audience. Typically you negotiate for the loan of materials to your show from various archives around the world—sort of like signing “stars” to a film—and then work with teams of exhibition designers, graphic artists, lighting technicians, A/V folks, carpenters, and so forth to bring your show to life in a gallery, just as the director and producers collaborate with a production department on the lot of a film studio during the making of a movie.
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