There’s a fine line between celebration and hagiography in the arts. Delicate effort it takes to create something that pays tribute to the value of an individual artist, or works of art themselves, without making those works of art into, to use religious terms, idols for worship.
This line means nothing to Guillermo Del Toro. So far into indulgent adoration of his idols is Del Toro that he has created an entire house dedicated to, nay inhabited by, his favorite fictional works and the artists who made them. It’s called Bleak House, and it is just outside of Pasadena, California.
Getting to Bleak House is unlikely (beside being in California, it is also Del Toro’s home, so you’re probably not invited). But lucky for us, the Minneapolis Institute of Art has brought the closest thing to Bleak House to Minnesota. Their new exhibit, “Guillermo Del Toro: At Home With Monsters,” will run from March 5 – May 28.
“At Home With Monsters” is the brainchild of Mia Director Kaywin Feldman, who worked with Del Toro to bring the project to life. The show is comprised of over 500 pieces, mostly from Del Toro’s personal collection from Bleak House, though Mia’s own collection is represented as well. The exhibit features eight thematic sections each carved out to create individual experiences. Some rooms: Movies, comics, pop culture; Frankenstein and horror; Freaks and Monsters.
There are special effects involved, such as the thunderstorm and mirage window in the Rain Room, Del Toro’s personal favorite in Bleak House. Two time Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla wrote an original score to accompany the show, giving it the heightened, cinematic experience it deserves.
This being a dive into the mind of Guillermo Del Toro, the show includes some intense and frightening images. Horror films can do that. To accompany the show, Mia and Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul will be playing a roster of Del Toro’s films.
Gabriel Ritter, Curator and Head of Contemporary Arts for Mia said that so vast and numerous were the pieces in “At Home with Monsters” that he could not possibly know the origin of every one. Asked if he thought Del Toro might take something home when he comes for the opening, Ritter responded he’d be more worried that Guillermo would bring pieces on the plane and add them to the shelves while no one was looking.
At least a few pieces, including a bust of Marlon Brando and a selection of Del Toro’s famed working notebooks, will not arrive until Del Toro does, for an pre-opening gala on Saturday. Del Toro will also be at Mia on Sunday, for a Q&A and book signing.
The exhibit has so many pieces and thematic interests that distilling it to a single purpose would be futile. So I will instead distill it to two. The first is obvious: to celebrate and explore the creativity of Guillermo Del Toro himself.
Having established himself as one of the premier fantasists working in cinema, “At Home with Monsters” has more material for a show about monsters than could possibly be represented. To date, Del Toro has directed nine feature films and worked on three TV series. All are rooted in science-fiction, fantasy or horror genres, though Del Toro’s work always bends and breaks through customary genre expectations in one way or another.
In his films, Del Toro has created some of the most striking, terrifying, and beautiful creatures of modern fantasy. Life-size recreations of some of Del Toro’s most memorable creatures are featured in each section of the show, including the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth, the Angel of Death from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and the Pale Man, again, from Pan’s Labyrinth. Also scattered throughout are sketches and sculptures and props from the entirety of Del Toro’s ouvre. No one creates a fantasy world like Del Toro, and the details of those worlds are on display at Mia from start to finish.
The work of Del Toro himself may be the driving force behind many of the feature works in “At Home With Monsters”, but I would wager the greater purpose of the exhibition is to penetrate obsession itself. Del Toro has the zeal of a youthful collector, pushing far beyond the boundaries of passion into an obsessive relationship with Monsters, as an idea and a reality. This impulse to collect will be familiar to many fans of horror and comics, and what Del Toro has done with Bleak House will make even the most minor collector envious. Del Toro’s personal collection rivals the Louvre or the Tate, if those fine institutions were pursuing solely Monsters, freaks, and the beasts that haunt your nightmares.
Del Toro’s collecting borders on religion; his admiration for H.P. Lovecraft has led to a vast collection of statues of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as a life-size recreation the man himself. Also featured in life-size wax statues in Bleak House: Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith, Linda Blair, make-up artist Jack Pierce putting make-up on Boris Karloff. All life-size.
Experiencing this boundless obsession with monsters and their makers is what really pushes “At Home With Monsters” into a necessary visit for Guillemo Del Toro fans, horror fans in general, or just lovers of the weird, wonderful worlds of occult, comics, and fantasy.
Curator Ritter described Frankenstein’s monster as a spiritual guide for Del Toro, who has the physical characteristics of a monster, but also carries extreme fragility. Frankenstein and religion, the occult and Lovecraft, so much that could be left in conceptual areas is given tangible presence in “At Home With Monsters.” Bringing the intangible into the experiential is one of the great achievements of art, and Mia achieves it here. It’s a powerful experience.