Tim Burton Retrospective: An Interview with Curator Ron Magliozzi


by Anna Carnick

The upcoming retrospective at NYC's Museum of Modern Art explores the career of Tim Burton, whose talent has led him to transform often frightening notions—death, loneliness, the apocalypse—into charmingly approachable forms, creating strange worlds that closely mirror our own, but with all the appropriate Burton-esque accoutrements. The creative mastermind behind films like "Edward Scissorhands," "Beetle Juice," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "9" and the upcoming "Alice in Wonderland," Burton now finds his own world onscreen.

A fascinating review of Burton's artistic career, the exhibition focuses on his evolution as both director and concept artist for live-action and animated films, in addition to his work as an artist, illustrator, photographer and writer. Tracing Burton's creative history chronologically—from his earliest childhood drawings through his mature work in film—the survey unites over 700 examples of rarely or never-before-seen drawings, paintings, photographs, notes, storyboards, moving-image works, puppets, costumes, and other cinematic ephemera, as well as an extensive film series spanning Burton's 27-year career.


Given the sheer breadth and depth of work and the excitement of it all on view for the first time, the exhibition is a must-see. Bringing it all together for everyone to enjoy are the show's curators, Ron Magliozzi and Jenny He. In thanking the pair earlier this week, Burton himself joked, thanks, “for trying to make some sense out of my life so far.â€

Cool Hunting had the pleasure of speaking with Magliozzi, Assistant Curator for MoMA's Department of Film, about the new show.

How was the Tim Burton exhibition born? What was the catalyst?
It has always been our mission to honor the work of the cinema's most important and influential artists. This exhibition provides us with the rare, virtually unique, opportunity to focus attention on a filmmaker who has created so much remarkable work that is appropriate for display in a gallery setting as well as on the screen.


The Museum of Modern Art Department of Film has staged approximately 80 gallery exhibitions on the cinema since 1939 (in addition to its film screening programs), including gallery installations on D. W. Griffith, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini, Ernie Gehr, Ray, Harryhausen, the UPA, Disney and Warner Bros. animation studios, British, French, German and Italian cinema, Yiddish and Black cinema, and in 2005 the Pixar Animation Studio. Tim Burton follows in this tradition.

The precise moment of inspiration came to me at a screening of "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories" (1997), and thought, "We should approach Tim Burton for an exhibition at MoMA."


How would you describe the organization of the exhibit itself? Can you walk us through some of the show's major highlights?
Faced with the responsibility of being the first Museum to present so much previously unseen work from an artist as popular as Tim Burton, who luckily has saved much of what he's done creatively since adolescence, we felt our first job was to provide some chronological and narrative structure to its exhibition.

We've attempted to accomplish this by organizing material under “Surviving Burbank†covering the years of Tim's upbringing in Burbank, CA; “Beautifying Burbank†on his years as a student at CalArts and an apprentice animator and concept artist with the Walt Disney Company, including his early collaborations with sculptor and artist Rick Heinrichs, animator Joe Ranft and effects artist Stephen Chiodo; to “Beyond Burbank†for the years since his first feature, "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985), to the present, when he's called on a number of successful collaborators—costume designer Colleen Atwood, special effect make-up artist Stan Winston, character designers The Carlos Grangel Studio, puppet fabricators Mackinnon and Saunders and composer Danny Elfman—to bring his vision to the screen.

Which themes stand out most consistently?
The dynamic, ongoing relationship between childhood and adulthood and the saving grace of creative activity seem to be his most comprehensive themes. Motifs include a creature-based notion of character, masks and armor, body modification, and the Carnivalesque.


Was Burton involved in choosing works or installation?
Tim opened his archive to us, without any apparent restrictions, and left us alone to make our choices. We also chose work from the Disney, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox archives, as well as work from his collaborators without limits. Our hopes for the exhibition were exceeded this past July, when, after studying our selections of the art, objects and films we'd chosen for the exhibition, Tim spent several days contemplating our gallery and the museum's public spaces, and responded by creating seven new sculptural installation pieces that he then offered for our consideration. I'm pleased to say that all seven are now highlights of the exhibition.


This exhibit introduces the full spectrum of his work—beyond film—to a broad audience. How would you describe Burton as an artist?
Ultimately an optimistic one, whose recourse in creative activity in all periods of his life has been a path to success.

How do his different creative fields complement one another?
We hope that our show will demonstrate that they are virtually the same.


In addition to the show itself, I understand MoMA is presenting Burton films. Can you tell us more about this?
Moving image material is being presented in three ways. My co-organizer, Jenny He, has programmed two film series for our Titus Theaters, which will be ongoing through the five month run of the exhibition. The first consists of Tim's 14 theatrical features and two shorts, and the second—"Tim Burton and the Lurid Beauty of Monsters"—a survey of films that have influenced and inspired him, including work by Ray Harryhausen, Rankin and Bass, Roger Corman and Ed Wood. Thirdly, we are exhibiting Tim's Super 8mm and 16mm amateur shorts such as Houdini, the Untold Story (1971), Doctor of Doom (1980), his long-thought "lost" TV adaptation of Hansel and Gretel (1983), his TV commercials and music video Bones (2006) for The Killers, and an excerpt from the stop-motion puppet tests he directed for Mars Attacks (1996).


See more images after the jump.

Tim Burton Retrospective
22 November 2009-26 April 2010
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019 map
tel. +1 212 397 6980‎


All images courtesy of MoMA