The opening day of the Tim Burton exhibition at the Resnick Pavilion on Saturday stirred the energy in the air and drove hundreds of devoted fans to wait with books in hand in a line that could have easily been a mile long. Beginning at the entrance to the Ahmanson Theatre and wrapping around the property to the George C. Page museum, the line personified the creeping and endless form Michael Keaton’s character assumes as a menacing snake in Burton’s 1988 film, “Beetlejuice.” There seemed to be no end in sight.
Waiting to meet the illustrator, director and visionary responsible for a inventing a darkened and twisted aesthetic that captured the imagination of an entire generation, the devoted waited dutifully in the heat. Many of them donned their own homemade black and stitched garments inspired by Burton’s riff of German Expressionism and gothic visions. There certainly was a mystical force surrounding the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. While museum members waited in line to view the 700 drawings, costumes, films, storyboards, puppets, and maquettes inside the exhibition, a topiary shaped like a moose paying homage to “Edward Scissorhands” signaled that Burton’s vision was indeed everywhere.
Designed like a labyrinth circling the interior creative process of the artist, the exhibition space is filled with drawings and paintings from private collections rendered on sketchpads and even the Calendar section of the L.A. Times. Included is Burton’s early work, created during his childhood in Burbank where the monotony on tract homes and suburbia made him feel an outcast, much like the character he would later create with “Edward Scissorhands.”
Just as Edward descends upon a small community with cookie-cutter houses with the hopes of fitting in and is later driven away, Burton’s own work maintains a disposition of characters that walk a social tightrope juggling the desire to be accepted while daring to remain true to themselves. After attending CalArts and working as an illustrator for Disney for four years, Burton not only survived Burbank but produced an arsenal of characters whose wiry and stitched construction make them more relatable than those found in any conventional fairy tale.
Burton’s handwriting on a legal pad under glass reads that “Beetlejuice” must “be a human story with shattering consequences—life, death, greed, etc.” The construction that Burton defines for the film lends itself to his other projects, where Batman must reconcile his identity of crime fighter and businessman in Gotham, Pee Wee Herman must chase his beloved bicycle (and symbol of childhood) across the country, and where Edward must accept that he will never be a completed human after the death of his inventor, even if he has the ability to love a woman he can never have.
To have the opportunity to view works (albeit in rather crowded conditions) that Burton never anticipated would be exhibited for the public grants insight into the mind of a man whose imagination catapults him beyond the conventions of his contemporaries. It’s not just that Burton’s creations are unusual in their appeal, but that they strike a chord within viewers who understand what it means to be different.
What: “Tim Burton” exhibition
Where: Resnick Pavilion, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; closed Wednesday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, until Oct. 31
Cost: Tickets must be purchased for a specific time and date. General admission, $20; LACMA members, free; children 17 and younger: free