Tim Burton at the MoMA

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite people on the face of the planet is about to abandon me and move to Michigan.  (Yes Michigan.  Like she couldn’t leave me for someplace sunny like Cancun, LA, or Seattle?!?!)

Danielle is my go to museum buddy, so we decided to cram in one more exhibit before she forsakes me for the arctic tundra and hamburger helper.  (That bitch.)  We decided to check out the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA.

Being the total spendthrift that I am, I usually hold out for Friday nights when admission is free.  So imagine my surprise when I learned the cost of admission was twenty smackeroos.  Twenty!  And it wasn’t like the Met where the admission cost is “suggested” so you can elect to spend $5 if you just want to plop in front of your favorite painting and ignore the rest of the museum.  At the MoMA it’s all or nothing.

“Seriously, twenty dollars?” I said to the cashier as she waved us forward.

“Well for $30, you can also visit the Top of the Rock,” she replied.

So what did I do?  Yup.  I plopped down thirty dollars.  I’d never been to the Top of the Rock!  If we were going to unleash our inner tourists, we were going to do it in style, damnit.  All we needed now were some “I heart NY” tees and glittery 2010 sunglasses.

A Mess o' Burton
A Mess o' Burton

We bee-lined for the Tim Burton exhibit.  It was fantastical.  I loved seeing his multitude of sketches.  He is so incredibly prolific.  I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like inside that brain.  (Am I the only one who hears the Sex and the City theme song every time I hear the words, “I couldn’t help but wonder?”  But wait, we’re talking about Tim’s brain, not mine.)  Is it wonderful in there?  Is it exhausting?  Is it terrifying?

It’s as if the Blue Girl and Corpse Boy were his imaginary friends that stayed with him past childhood and into adulthood – talking to him every single day.  They seem to pop up everywhere!  The collection of sketches are almost like little memos dictated by the Blue Girl to Tim’s psyche.


His sketches and watercolors were nearly compulsive in nature — scribbled onto hotel memo pads and torn pieces of paper.  My favorites were the one page rhyming stories complimented with a small illustration.  These were little windows into his thought process, the initial documentation of new characters that later became more prevalent in his sketches or components of his larger works.

…and the colors.  THE COLORS!

…and the squishy spirals, spinning imperfectly into infinity.

I wanted to stand on my tip toes and twirl endlessly, arms thrown wide, giggling as a shower of squishy spirals in every color imaginable rained down around me.

While we were there, a group of students also viewed the exhibit, sketch books in hand.  They worked in pairs.  One would stand silently, pencil poised, while his partner scanned the room.  Once an image was selected, the partner would catalog each component of the piece in vivid detail to the sketcher as he tried to recreate the work based solely on the descriptions of his partner.

What an intriguing exercise!  As they worked, I huddled as close as possible to eavesdrop on their process and progress.

Listening to the partner’s description while looking at the piece in question was like a revelation.  Why yes!  The creature DOES have a vacuum attachment for an appendage.  I hadn’t noticed the spines on her back were cutlery!  Hmmm, I would have described her expression as “fiercely protective” rather than “domineering” but I suppose it COULD be interpreted that way.  Who can I trick into joining me at a museum and playing this reindeer game?

I also enjoyed the evolution of his characters.  In one room, the wall was filled with cartoons of timid boys absorbing the world with their huge, unblinking, Johnny-Depp-esque eyes, interacting with Burton’s creatures and goblins.  After less than five minutes, it was clear why Tim so frequently uses Johnny Depp in his films.

On another wall, tucked into a corner of yet another page torn from yet another tattered sketch book, she stood silently – an unassuming female gardener.  She was bespectacled and dressed in drab green.  At the end of her long graceful arm was a pair of gardening shears in place of her hand.

It was like a black light went off above my head and Tim had written “The artistic process is not linear, you dumbass – stop being so Type A!” in day glow paint right smack in the middle of Johnny Depp’s forehead – or rather the forehead of the wax statue of Edward Scissorhands, but you get the point.  I could almost feel the Blue Girl resting her suture covered hand on my shoulder as she gently whispered in my ear, filling my head with her whispy voice.  “Just keep working.  You can’t yet know what these ideas will become.  Enjoy the process.  Explore.  Try the absinthe.”  (She may be a muse, but she’s still creepy.)

It was a lovely day filled with affection and artwork.  Having plunked down our fat wads of cash, we elected to browse the other featured exhibits and stop by our favorite parts of the permanent installations.

Girl Before a Mirror
Girl Before a Mirror

Monet’s Water Lilies were there.  Those were the pieces that really got me interested in painting as a kid.  How could such chaos elicit such tranquility from its audience?  That Claude is pretty magic I tell you.  Plus I’m a sucker for old men with beards.  They’re all great.  Santa, Dad, Robert Downey Jr, ZZ Top – what’s not to love?

Then we popped upstairs to peek in on the Picasso pieces.   I really didn’t like his work when I was younger, but all that changed when my sister-in-law gave me a print of The Dream as a graduation present.  At first, I just enjoyed the humor in hanging a masturbation painting in my living room.  But I grew to love the piece madly, and my appreciation for Picasso developed.

Every time I’m at the MoMA, I have to see Girl Before a Mirror.  The piece itself is stunning, (I’m a sucker for painters that include wallpaper in their compositions, doncha know) but it’s his signature that makes me grin the widest.  I love that he signed it in the top left corner of the canvas.  “I’m Picasso, Bitches!” it screams.  Now THAT is some confidence.

So on that whole artsy self-exploring note; I’ll leave you with a passage from the book I’m currently reading, Kingston by Starlight.  It makes my heart swoon and fills my brain with beauty and song – not a bad way to kick off the weekend.

There is this enigmatic space between who we are and who we must be.  All our lives we seek to cross it, to bridge it, to follow, apostolic, the image we see in our soul’s mirror.  A thousand daily distractions and derelictions keep us from our goal, from the great work, from the best self, but, in the end, we are all on a journey toward that secret soul or away from it.  It stands waiting, indigenous, on the continent of our hopes.  And like those explorers who first discover’d the Indies and the Orient and other far-flung places besides, I, too, had set a bold booted foot on a new land – in me.

–Christopher John Farley


  1. There’s a Tim Burton exhibit?!?!? And I wasn’t invited?!?

    These wounds go deep.

    Oh man, remembering Tim Burton’s films is like going through a list of my all-time favorite movies. Looking at his drawings/paintings (I didn’t even know he did canvas work) would be a dream. I’m jealous. Oh, and wounded or whatever.
    .-= KeepingYouAwake´s last blog ..I Love Movies More Than You =-.

    1. Would you please come visit NYC so I can plunk down another yuppie fiver to wallow in all that is Burton again? Please? Pretty please?

      You should really see the Polaroid pieces…

  2. This is a beautiful post! I loved reading your descriptions. And that quote — that’s one I may have to use with my psychology students. Stunning.

    Uh, where in Michigan is your poor friend moving? I’m in Jackson, Michigan, aka J-town, or Jack-hole, or Prison City. Lots of great stuff happening here in Michigan, I tell you. :\
    .-= Andrea´s last blog .."Snow [Hey Oh]" =-.

  3. Sweetie, I’m up for MOMA. I have the cutest little sketch book my sister sent me. Let’s go!


    p.s. and I think I can save you $20.

    1. hooRAY! I MUST see the Picasso and Matisse exhibits that will be there in a few months. You’re my date. It’s official. If we were on a sports team I would totally slap your ass right now.

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