Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tim Burton's Garden of Earthly Delights

Every big city girl must count on a few requisite items: an unlimited MetroCard, a pocketbook sized- taser, a good relationship with her pharmacist who will graciously look the other way when she's exceeded her annual allotment of Plan B prescriptions, and her best gay to accompany her on outings to the museum on a Sunday afternoon, because God knows Giacomo from Greenhouse won't!

After nearly eight years under my tutelage, trying on my clothes, and criticizing my eating habits while simultaneously submerged in a tub of generic- brand ice cream and "topping," young Pup thrusts himself (primary and secondary definitions withstanding, however the latter is more of a dry thrust) into the world. That's right, he signed off from and the Domino's Pizza Tracker long enough to start his own BLOG, which serves as a temporary substitute while he negotiates his reality show contract with Bravo. It's called Single, Poor, and Hungry in NYC. He took the words right out of my mouth, except the hungry part that is, because there's lots of food in my mouth:

Baby's first post creates a Roshemon effect for the following review I wrote in my "serious" voice, just another character from my cast of multiple personalities, but his is actually funny. So save yourself a few moments of your dwindling days on earth and just read his humorous, xenophobic account of another dejected and beleaguered Sunday in the cruel, cruel world.

But I know you're a masochist, dastardly reader, so here's mine:

Tim Burton’s Garden of Earthly Delights

The name Tim Burton conjures figures: Edward Scissorhands’ exaggerated shadow, Jack Skellington’s spindly silhouette against a full moon. Or the gawky goth girl in chemistry class who carried her clove cigarettes in a lunch box and wore black and white- striped knee socks like the Wicked Witch of the West.

These menacing figures skulk and slink (and their fans obstruct, as the show often sells out daily, enhancing the Burton’s visual claustrophobia to experiential) on the walls and screens of the filmmaker’s show at the Museum of Modern Art, from now until April 26th. Mr. Scissorhands and Mr. Skellington receive their due, along with lesser-known character studies. The Joker’s exaggerated grin and bulbous nose apparently went through multiple mutations. Work by animators Carlos Grangel and Joe Ranft reveals the collaborative process of Burton’s evil genius.

“Cinematic ephemera” from Batman, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks, and Beetlejuice dangle from the ceiling, creating a morbid effect. There are puppets and props that appear to have been lifted from the bowels of an S and M dungeon, and potato- headed stop- motion animation figurines from Corpse Bride and the Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton basically invented the smart, subversive device of making that which appears to be for children- PeeWee Herman! Catwoman!—categorically for adults. This realization visually seeped across the face of one mother, when her toddler inquired after the purpose of all the straps and buckles on the Penguin’s baby carriage. Bondage straps, that is. It’s pretty terrifying stuff, but always with a wink and a smile.

Tim Burton’s art is not resplendent. It’s more Goya than van Gogh, more along the lines of Bosch’s fetid, hedonistic scenes and Alfred Kubin’s nightmare monsters. The “Corpse Boy” photos show a bloated, blue baby, alongside ribbons of sutures coiling around disembodied limbs. His monster illustrations painstakingly detail every hoof and horn, with technique that looks almost pointillist. This show should be filed under the category “If You’re Into That Sort of Thing.” And from the overwhelming response, it seems that many are.Burton’s MoMA debut auspiciously coincides with the release of his new interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, slated for release March 5th. The opportune timing raises questions over the intersection between museum exhibitions and their commercial interests. This is hardly a new phenomenon, as artists and museums have historically relied on patronage, from benefactors in the past and from corporate underwriters today. But sponsorship by featured artists themselves seems to be a growing trend in New York City museums recently. The Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute “Model as Muse” exhibit last year was sponsored by Marc Jacobs, and his confections filled nearly all the final gallery. Burton’s show, in spite of being deeply engaging and disturbing, may be intended to instigate chatter around his latest project, a kind of culturally sanctioned preview.

Perhaps direct sponsorship, whether from an individual, their studio, or a public relations team is just a new reality in museum going, a way for institutions to grasp at survival in a climate of diminishing donations. Like all decisions around art, what it is and who is celebrated, the process is never democratic but highly deliberative. Maybe a filmmaker receiving his due from a major museum is a step forward in redefining the limits of what institutions declare and disseminate as art. We’ll have to wait and see if “cinematic ephemera” from Alice in Wonderland makes it into the next show.

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