Perhaps one of the best known Surrealists of our time, American film director and artist Tim Burton is having a massive showing of his work in Prague. Around 500 drawings, paintings, sketches, photos, film and sculptural installations are on display now at City Gallery Prague’s Stone Bell House on Old Town Square.
This is quite a unique opportunity – the previous incarnation of the exhibition was staged at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2009. While that show had more pieces, Prague’s is slightly different, with never before seen paintings, drawings and sketches on display, as well as screenings of some of Burton’s experimental shorts and animated projects.
The depth of Burton’s artistic ability may not be known to many, who may consider him merely the director of such films as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Alice in Wonderland, and Batman. He’s personally sketched many of his movie’s characters and set designs and at a press conference in Prague for the exhibition’s opening, said that for him, drawing is a form of expression.
“My drawings are very personal. So it’s strange for me to have this private, personal thing on display,” he said. “Drawing is a form of thinking, communicating, I’m not a good speaker so I always found it was easier for me to communicate through drawing.”
The exhibition is divided into ten themes. His inclination towards the carnivalesque – that mix between comedy and the grotesque – shows how Burton has balanced this in many of his films. Around the World shows off his doodling while travelling – sketches on notebook paper, hotel stationary, and an amazing number of cocktail napkins (the man apparently throws nothing away) explicitly demonstrates his stated love of drawing.
One interesting project is Polaroids. From 1992-1999 Burton undertook a personal project using a 20X24 instant camera to produce a series of oversized Polaroids. Some look familiar, often ending up in his films. Tim’s iconic ‘misunderstood outcast’ also gets a showing and film fans will want to examine closely the section dedicated to sketches of his film characters on the first floor. Other themes include one on unrealized projects, his influences, holidays and figurative works.
In the museum’s gothic cellar a reading room has been set-up with books by and about Burton. There are also three screening rooms. One shows four of Burton’s full length films at set times throughout the day – Mars Attacks, Sleepy Hollow, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and Big Fish. The room’s seating is benches with cushions and looks quite uncomfortable for a 90 minute film.
Separate rooms (with proper chairs) show some of his early films and shorts. Video on other floors includes Hansel and Gretel, a digital video made in 1983 and broadcast only once in October of that year as a Halloween special for Walt Disney Studios. You can also see two commercials and two music videos that Burton has done. The Timex watch commercial was actually filmed in Prague and was Burton’s first visit to the city. His strongest memory from that period (the ad was shot in 2000) was that the production office seemed to be in a brothel.
The museum has really gotten into the Burton vibe; the entryway is papered in black and white strips and the bathroom signs on at least one of the floors seem to have been replaced with suspiciously Burtonesque drawings of stick figures. Spooky mood music plays in the background as well.
Also at the press conference was the exhibition’s curator Jenny He. She said that presenting Burton’s art and film in Prague is especially fitting considering the rich history of Czech cinema.
“We hope The World of Tim Burton will introduce Tim’s creative and singular output,” she said. “The roots of stop-motion animation run deep in Prague and Tim’s affinity to the medium has laid the foundation of his artistic career. I could not imagine a more appropriate city to inaugurate The World of Tim Burton.”
Burton echoed Jenny He’s statement about Czech animation, paying homage to Karel Zeman and Jan Švankmajer particularly.
“The history here in terms of animation is another reason I’m happy to be here,” he said. “There are so many amazing animators throughout the history of this country. As computers have taken over the world, as you walk around the city, this place has the feeling of art and handmade. It continues here; it’s incredible.”
Jenny He didn’t have an easy go putting this exhibition together—Burton’s archives have around 10,000 pieces.
“I let them (the curators) go through everything and they tried to make it unique and a part of the spirit of Prague,” Burton said.
Jenny He added “Tim probably didn’t intend to show much of this publically, but we are grateful.”
The exhibition’s design was carried out by local architecture studio Olgoj Chorchoj. Burton seemed to like what they’ve done over the three floors.
“It’s almost as important as the pieces, creating the environment” he said. “The feeling is crucial to presenting the project and everything about this feels very special to me.”