After you climb your way through the gaping jaw sporting jagged teeth, and make your way down the black and white paneled entryway – with disfigured cartoons playing all around you – visitors to New York’s Museum of Modern Art arrive at a room lit entirely by black lights. A neon carousel spins incessantly, flanked on all sides by Burton’s disembodied sculptures.
Just inside the next door is the scarecrow from “Sleepy Hollow,” an imposing demon figure with a pumpkin head, zigzag teeth and outstretched arms, lunging at you.
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It’s the perfect one-two-three punch to get things started – from the bizarre to the surreal and the grotesque. In other words: Vintage Tim Burton. From the surrealism of “Edward Scissorhands” to the precision nightmare of “The Corpse Bride” and the bloodbath that is his “Sweeney Todd,” Burton has lured millions of unsuspecting movie fans into the dark recesses of his mind, forging one of the most unique careers in Hollywood history. And through April 26, that imagination is on full display throughout MoMA’s third floor, in the form of sketches, sculptures, molds, puppets, set pieces and props.
This is the sort of pop art that dreams are made of, works that call out for a second, third and fourth viewing. TIME.com’s Richard Lacayo and Jacob Templin visited the museum just prior to Thanksgiving to talk to Burton himself about this most eclectic range of goodies. Ranking just below the neon carousel, I’d have to say my favorite slice of the exhibit is the “Corpse Bride” cast ensemble, all lined up in a case, so pristine in their detail that you can envision Burton himself working with them, molding each moment. He pushed a camera right up against these motionless dolls, hovering a couple of inches away, turning immovable objects into fluid, flowing personalities. The attention to detail is astounding, but it’s clear looking at all these various prints and molds that it’s actually Burton’s mind that is the real attraction here – a bottomless wellspring of inventiveness that has few equals.
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