A Look Back at Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas at the Neon Museum

Tim Burton Lost Vegas martian

When Tim Burton, the creative genius behind Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, joined forces with the Las Vegas Neon Museum, the result was an electric, eclectic art installation unlike any other. Sadly, Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas didn’t get to publicly celebrate its closing on April 12 as previously planned, but today you can join the Unofficial Guide on a virtual tour of this eye-popping exhibit.

Currently, most museums and landmarks are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We at The Unofficial Guides hope all our readers and their loved ones, remain healthy and safe. Without intending to trivialize the current crisis, we will continue to post positive stories, in hopes of bringing some magic into your home as a welcome distraction during these trying times.

The Neon Museum announced at the end of April that tickets are available for purchase on its website for visits starting May 22. Visit the museum’s website for more details.

Neon Museum Tim Burton Lost Vegas sign
Take a virtual trip through the Las Vegas Neon Museum with visionary director Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas exhibition. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

The Neon Museum is an opulent, 2.27-acre outdoor collection of more than 200 vintage neon signs celebrating Las Vegas’s small-town, bright-lights era. Signs are stacked along pathways winding through a maze of metal sculpture, huge panels of light bulbs, and yards of glass tubing. Among the huge classic structures are Sassy Sally’s facade of lights, Debbie Reynolds’s autograph, the Barbary Coast’s lavish B, and the graceful green-and-yellow flowering plant designating the Yucca Motel.

Each sign recalls the era when hotels and motels outdid each other with extravagant signage. The glory days of the now-departed Dunes, Moulin Rouge, Stardust, Sahara, and Desert Inn, for instance, are captured via their signature marquees; even the name of the museum itself is spelled out in capital letters from the famous hotels.

The visitor center is vintage as well: The former lobby of the La Concha Motel, a midcentury-modern structure, was transported from its previous location next to the Riviera Hotel.

On October 15, 2019, the Neon Museum opened its unprecedented collaboration with director Tim Burton, which was originally scheduled to run through February 15, 2020, and had been extended by popular demand prior to the coronavirus closure. Although Burton’s work has previously been exhibited in museums such as New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas featured site-specific sculptures and other unique artwork created exclusively for the Neon Museum’s exhibit.

Visitors to the Neon Museum got their first taste of Lost Vegas before ever entering the grounds, thanks to this massive multi-legged sculpture outside the entrance.

Inside the visitors center, a small gallery welcomed guests with a collection of inspiration concept art, as well as a couple of models from Burton’s famous Vegas-related projects.

The bulk of the quirky collection resided in the boneyard, where Burton’s distinctive creations took up residence among the antique signage, almost as if they’d always belonged there.

Further delights awaited inside this shell-like structure, where miniature dioramas, holographic videos, and an animatronic robot were displayed underneath a darkened dome illuminated with colorful creatures.

Finally, on the way out, visitors could stop into a small black booth and perform “karaoke” with their lips projected onto a sculpted figure set in front of a film screen.

While Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas was a once-in-a-lifetime event, the Neon Museum is still well worth visiting without it. Day guests are on their own for a self-guided tour; the brochure doesn’t provide much guidance, so ask about the entertaining free half-hour gallery talks, which are usually scheduled several times each afternoon.

You can also visit neonmuseum.app on your smartphone to access an informative audio tour. Normally this feature is restricted to guests visiting the museum, but right now you can enjoy the complete Neon Museum audio tour for free from your home by entering the password NEON.

We do think it’s worth paying more for a guided evening tour, which intertwines docents’ commentary with the colorful history of Las Vegas; tours held after dusk also show off the museum’s 19 fully restored neon signs—including the recently refurbished Hard Rock Cafe guitar—with the remainder of the collection illuminated by spotlights.

For all there is to see and do in Las Vegas, check out The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas by Bob Sehlinger and Seth Kubersky. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

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