[media-credit name="Untitled (Romeo and Juliet) | Tim Burton" align="alignright" width="300"][/media-credit]
From the swirly monster mouth that swallows you at the entrance to being spit out into the inevitable gift shop, this exhibit is Disneylandified. Just like at movie tie–in theme parks, Burton's films are worshipped, but invisible. They are the required watching that makes the opportunity to geek out on his magical little drawings all the more enticing. In a dark booth with monsters and glow in the dark paint, spooky, swirly music plays, like the beginning of a ride. In another room, Johnny Depp's black leather Edward Scissorhands costume stands headless on a pedestal. At the predictably large gift store, any artifact of Burton–relevance and a few stretches, like the blonde wig marketed as the hair of Alice (of Wonderland fame), are for sale. The wall of DVDs, more than anything, conjures another time, just as Burton's art belongs to an alternate incarnation of our world.
The freakiest flags in the display were Tim Burton die–hards, a pair of post–teen girls in striped leggings and novelty t–shirts. I knew they had a sleepover movie marathon planned for the evening, or as they think of it, a very long date with Johnny Depp.
All of this is a distraction to the expansive collection of Burton artwork, especially the sketches and cartoons. They range from funny, to dark, to disgusting — but they are mostly beautiful. Burton sketches no person in proportion, but in the distortion lies clarity and insight into human behavior. A common murmur overheard from fellow museum–goers is, “what a twisted mind...” and it seems getting inside that mind is the goal of the exhibit. One can only hope that the sketches are rough drafts or unselfconscious side projects that will betray the root of his genius. The issue with Burton is that his signature look — the wide eyed creepy children and mangled adults — has become so popular. What do you do when your art becomes merely a style?
Many of his sketches have hand–written explanations, written in all–caps in the scrawl of a man who probably wrote the same way in elementary school. He writes his captions almost as questions, positing a different way to view the world. In a watercolor cartoon for an unfulfilled project called “Romeo and Juliet,” Burton depicts Romeo as land and Juliet as the sea, each with a city as a hat. It's just one of many charming drawings with such aesthetic appeal and conceptual punch that you assume it must be good for you.
The drawings are so intoxicating you will consider buying the coffee table book. Until you get to the overbearing gift shop, you pause to consider the Alice wig, you dance to more of the spooky, bouncy music and you leave, tired from the mayhem but deeply, refreshingly inspired.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90036 (323) 857–6000 $20 tickets