Kids NYC: Tim Burton Exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art
Recently I heard a designer say The details aren’t details, they’re the design” (I’m paraphrasing). Ron Magliozzi curator of the new Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art is surely an adherent to that ethos—or else he’s a 10 year old masquerading as a mature adult.
Children’s Museums take note: This exhibit is the most brilliant ones we’ve seen for single digit kids in a long long time (excepting those that are primarliy physical play spaces).
BEFORE YOU GO:
- Download the Tim Burton Family Guide.
- Visit MOMA’s Tim Burton website with all the museum happenings related to the exhibit as well as videos and guides.
- See one of his really family friendly movies like Mars Attacks or Edward Scissorhands.
- See the video Tim Burton made for MOMA. It’s super short and cute.
Here are some of the details making it so outstanding:
- A big spiral on the floor and and arrow pointing to the exhibit. If there is any room to breathe, kids will surely be running around this sprial—especially younger ones.
- Enter the exhibit by walking into the mouth of a typical Burton sort-of fearsome but not really so character. Big sharp teeth, asymmetrical eyes, and those crazy spirals. It sets the stage for the whole viewer-director interaction with Tim Burton: Are you a passive recipient being eaten or are you an active player opting to move in like Jonah in the whale…?
- Then there’s a black and white striped darkened hall with 6 video screens playing scenes from The World of Stainboy.
- Up next they’ll come to a black light room with some glow in the dark paintings and a giant spinning top Carousel (how else to describe it?). Way way cool. Have them wear white to the exhibit if you can just to see this neat effect.
- Finally, they enter the main part of the exhibit, which we talk about below.
- The final room is filled with props and costumes kids will be excited to recognize and see in person–Batman’s mask, the Sleepy Hollow Scarecrow, and the characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- Sidenote: The whole museum is infused with Tim Burton. You could almost make this exhibit into a scavenger hunt. Here are some things to look for around the museum:
- Outside the Titus theater are several large scale polaroids.
- In the sculpture garden, check out the large scale Baloon Boy (21 feet tall, 8 feet diameter balloon!) and deer shaped topiary.
- They are constantly screening Tim Burton’s films and the films that influenced him. From his award winners to the more obscure films he used in the horror film festivals he organized as a teen.
- DEFINITELY sign up to get emails on family programs. In early January they will be announcing the family workshops–which I’ll be signing up for the minute I get the email.
Aside from being great kid eye candy, there are some key messages to explore with your children. Here are some ideas:
There is a tendency to try to eliminate all negativity from childhood today. Fairy tales are made innocuous, films with any potentially scary elements are off limits. Tim Burton is an excellent argument for transformation over prohibition.How much more effective and ultimately empowering to deal directly with the ever present demons and dark side by infusing them with humor, light, fallibility. Look through the exhibit for places where he does this. How does he do this in his early work? How about in his later films? What about in the physical city of Burbank?
- PRACTICE & DEVELOPMENT
Kids tend to think people don’t evolve. They think great artists, writers, movies, sports stars or whatever are just born doing amazing things. Part of the genius of this retrospective from a child’s point of view is to see Tim Burton’s progression (including both acceptance and rejection) and development as an artist. Look at:
- Some of his early childhood efforts: the paper his teacher graded, his poems.
- The Giant Zlig book he made (with illustrations) and the accompanying letter from Disney when he submitted it to them.
- His paper on Humor in America (note teacher comment).
- Look at the video of his earliest works in the Burbank section. Now compare it to the more polished and professional works the kids may have seen. What’s different? What’s the same? What does it say about how we learn and adapt what we learn?
“Only boring people get bored” is one of my favorite expressions. Creative people can look at a blank wall and find inspiration there. Look through the exhibit for hints of what his inspirations may have been and talk to kids about the things that inspire them. Does the exhibit make them want to do anything?
- MULTIPLE MEDIUMS
Rarely do you see an exhibit (especially of such a young artist) with so many different media shown. Everything from a tin sign, to a story on notebook paper, to sculpture, video, canvas, even costumes is all in this one small space. Talk to kids about how one idea, one concept, is executed through media. Show them the continuity of some elements (shapes? colors? design?) and how others are changed or improved through another media.
- I especially like to point out the process of creating his films by looking at his very rudimentary storyboards and then moving from that to others in a progression of maturity.
- CREATIVE PROCESS
Remember that great black light room mentioned above? Turns out, many of the items in here were things Burton drew while working on other completely unrelated projects. They were his diversion from the main focus. This makes a good point and one adults all-too-often neglect to share with kids. The creative process is an iterative one that involves many digressions and detours. Talk with them about what happens when you are “stuck” for ideas. How do you work around it? How might Tim Burton have done it? How could they do it and still finish the task?
Tim Burton may be a genius but his work also improved with collaboration. Look at some of the key collaborations in his life and talk to kids about what they think each person brought to the partnership, what difficulties they may have had, evidence of each person’s “hand” in the making of something. Here are his key collaborators:
- Johnny Depp: Actor
- Danny Elfman: composer, does music for most of Tim’s films and is a good friend