“Is it art? Is it not? What’s good and what’s bad?” Tim Burton was delving into the meta at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday night. “I’ve experienced that myself, quite a lot,” he said, continuing to riff. “I’m very, very connected to that.”
Burton was considering the work of Margaret Keane, the subject of his new, aberrantly nonfiction film “Big Eyes.” So the story goes: Keane’s work — identifiable by its subjects, mostly children and women, with oversize eyes — was misappropriated by her second husband, Walter Keane. The paintings were sold massively in the Fifties and Sixties, during which Walter took the credit. He continued to do so until he died in 2000, even after a fraud case ruled against him.
“It’s not a big-eyed one, but it’s a painting that is extraordinary,” said Christoph Waltz, who plays Walter in the film, opposite Amy Adams. He was referencing his very own Keane; several cast mates received paintings as wrap gifts. “If I told anyone that Margaret Keane is the painter of that painting, they’d be very surprised.”
Jason Schwartzman — who didn’t make away with a Keane despite his role as a gallery owner in the film — noted that the art on his walls was a little more abstract. “The only thing on my walls is food and scratches and my daughter’s height chart,” he said as moviegoers, which included Patrick Stewart, Brooke Shields, Helena Christensen and others, piled into the theater.
After the film rolled, guests rode uptown to Kappo Masa, the new sushi spot tucked underneath Larry Gagosian’s gallery on Madison Avenue. Keane herself, who had planned on only attending one premiere, enjoyed the L.A. opening so much she decided to come to New York for a second round. In the restaurant, the artist nestled in a booth far away from the celebrities and photographers. Earlier in the night, she admitted that she still paints every day at age 87. “I still sometimes paint sad ones, but I paint happy ones too,” she explained. “I’ve become a lot happier.”