Las Vegas may be known today for sprawling casinos, big-budget theatrical productions, and extravagant hotels, but a new exhibition by artist and director Tim Burton at the city’s Neon Museum serves as an ode to its past as a fledgling site of entertainment and fantasy. Interspersed with dark surprises and numerous references to some of Sin City’s most storied institutions and sites, it is a love letter to an eccentric brand of Americana that Las Vegas once represented and that Burton grew up with.
The exhibition, titled “Lost Vegas,” includes some 24 site-specific works by Burton, whose madcap movies frequently combine elements of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Some pieces at the Neon Museum—whose collection, fittingly, focuses on signs from Las Vegas businesses of yesteryear—directly reference his 1988 film Beetlejuice (1988) and Mars Attacks! (1996), which was partly filmed in the city.
Most of the works on view at the Neon Museum are new and have never been seen before. Among Burton’s creations are a 40-foot-tall neon sign bearing the phrase “Lost Vegas,” an animatronic sculpture of a slot machine, and a model of the Landmark Hotel, which was imploded as part of a demolition project in 1995, all as an homage to the Las Vegas of his childhood. Growing up in Burbank, California, the Nightmare Before Christmas producer took road trips to Nevada with his family.
The show, which opened on Tuesday, runs through February 15.
“There’s really no other city in the world that has this kind of personal connection that Tim has to Las Vegas, in terms of memory and nostalgia,” curator Jenny He told ARTnews. “It really couldn’t exist anywhere else.”
He organized the 2009 Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as numerous other shows focused on the filmmaker’s artistic output. That MoMA show drew huge crowds—810,500 in total, making it the third-most-popular exhibition in its history at the time.
A large portion of the Las Vegas exhibition is on view in the Boneyard, the Neon Museum’s outdoor space, though sketches for some of the works can be found in its visitor center. Digital works figure in the museum’s immersive “Brilliant!” program in its North Gallery.
“He’s basically taken his pieces and has interspersed them among our collection,” Rob McCoy, president and CEO of the Neon Museum, told me. “We’re not like any other museum in the world, and Tim Burton is not like any other artist or director in the world. It’s a perfect match.”
Jenny He added that, like the blockbuster MoMA presentation, “Lost Vegas” will surprise visitors who expect to see props, puppets, and costumes in a Burton exhibition.
“Having that subversion of their expectations is really what’s enticing, for me at least, for this exhibition,” she said.
General admission for “Lost Vegas” is $30, and the museum recommends purchasing tickets in advance.
A slideshow of works in the exhibition follows.