There have been many pretenders to the Pop art crown worn by Andy Warhol. Forget Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. An unlikely contender has stepped forward to claim the throne. It is Tim Burton, the film director and animator whose darkly surreal vision has created modern fairy tales such as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice.
According to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Burton is the most significant visual artist since Warhol, who was famous for churning out, among other things, strident images of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.
America's premier modern art gallery is hosting an exhibition of 700 drawings, paintings and sculptures by Burton – with pieces dating back to his early days as a student at the California Institute of Art, right up to a specially commissioned sculpture for the museum's lobby. It opens later this month.
The exhibition's curator, Ron Magliozzi, believes Burton will be recognised as a figure as relevant as Warhol, the Pop artist who pioneered the factory system for producing numerous works of art. "It may be that Tim will rival Warhol when it comes to output and international reputation in the various forms of artistic expression," Magliozzi told The Art Newspaper. "Instead of using films to interpret the art, let's use the art to interpret the films. The art is the most important thing. The films are secondary."
The art critic Brian Sewell, however, is dismissive of the idea that Burton's work possessed artistic merit. "I think curators are ill advised and usually wrong," he said. "I don't think there can ever be another Warhol. There could never be anybody who excels at that skilled merchandising of multiples. There was a small genius there, but I think Tim Burton – I wouldn't believe it of somebody so insignificant. It's a bit like when Paul McCartney's art was compared to Rothko. I think this will be a flash in the pan."
Burton, 51, who lives in Belsize Park in north-west London, next door to his wife, the actress Helena Bonham Carter, said he was a bit "disturbed" by the exhibition. "It's hard for me to fathom, truthfully," he said, "because it's so outside my experience or culture. When they asked me about it I couldn't quite believe it. You feel quite vulnerable when you show a movie and this is even stranger. In a movie things go by quickly, like a moving target. This is like – oh gee. I'm a bit disturbed, really."