“What inspires you?” It’s what we ask artists. Maybe what we want to ask is: “How the hell have you gotten where you are? Am I on the same path? Please say yes.” Regardless of the question, with “At Home With Monsters,” an exhibit featuring the personal collection of director Guillermo del Toro, we have something of an answer.
The show is visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art during its limited tour of the United States. Dear Darkling attended the pre-opening celebration and watched as this wonder greeted a new audience.
The director of MIA, Kaywin Feldman, has been interested in an exhibit which focuses on both the work of an artist and the creativity driving them, and del Toro was an ideal candidate for such a show. Not only is he the owner of a staggering amount of expertly crafted work (to name just a few of the artists represented: Emilie Steele, Zdzislaw Beksinski, H. R. Giger, Edward Gorey, and Wayne Barlow), but is also unrepentant about using said artwork to spark new story ideas– he describes Bleak House, his home crammed with all manner of visual stimuli, as “a shock to the system.”
The red-walled exhibit is an eclectic mix of movie props and concept art, paintings, sculptures, comic books, and photography, as well as interactive features such as a digitized version of one of del Toro’s sketchbooks that guests can page through.
A sculpture of H.P. Lovecraft stands watchful in one room; in another, the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth stretches an eyeball’d hand to visitors. The visuals are enhanced by a running soundscape by Gustavo Santaolalla. Visitors overhear original music, as well as insects buzzing, faint whispers, knives being sharpened, and the thump of an axe. Nowhere else is the meeting of visual and aural more intense than in the recreation of Bleak House’s “Rain Room,” where a perpetual thunderstorm rolls. Windows are splattered with water as ghostly trees move beyond, and between them sits Edgar Allan Poe with a book on his knee, looking perfectly at home.
The show is organized along themes apparent in both del Toro’s collection and his filmography. Visitors can indulge in “Victoriana,” featuring dresses from Crimson Peak, or “Freaks and Monsters,” where statues of sideshow workers cozy up with historical photographs and painted portraits of the same. “Frankenstein and Horror” showcases del Toro’s near obsession with the classic movie monster. Other rooms are packed with comic books, props, and costumes from Hellboy, or wax medical sculptures and oddities that fall somewhere between art and found objects.
It is a self-reflective thing to walk amongst the personal possessions of one you admire. The almost voyeuristic experience left people speaking in hushed tones as they walked the loop of rooms. One attendee called it “the most satisfying museum exhibit that I’ve ever seen.”
The exhibit holds an effortless mix of mirth and gravity. Along one wall, one finds a series of concept art pieces for Disney films. Another displays four drawings by Stephen Gammell (the original illustrator of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). This contrast would feel fallacious anywhere else, but with del Toro, it just seems to work. It makes sense, somehow, that the man who creates such visceral movie monsters would also fall in love with Mark Teague‘s colorful illustrations from his children’s book One Halloween Night.
Del Toro himself made a similar impact on the denizens who poured into the show and subsequent talk and book signing. One attendee said, “You know when you meet your heroes and they’re kind of crummy? This is the TOTAL OPPOSITE of that.” He spoke with reverence about the pieces shown, clearly holding enormous respect for the artists who created them. During the book signing, he also asked about the attendees– whether they were artists, filmmakers, or other creative sorts. “I got the sense he likes the idea that others will be inspired as well,” said an attendee.
Oh, we are, Guillermo. We are. Minneapolis artist Nathanael England said of the show, “It really gave me a sense that anyone could potentially end up in a collection like that, if you strive to excel at what you do. I left feeling highly motivated and inspired.”
The exhibit will show at MIA until May 28, when it will depart for Canada’s Art Gallery of Ontario. After that it will visit Mexico, and then return to del Toro. He’s been quoted as saying, “I want my shit back! I want my shit in my house. It’s been horrible to go home.” We can see why. For the love of all things creepy and beautiful, go see this show if you can.
Puchko, Kristy. “Guillermo del Toro’s Monster Museum Will Tour No More.” Screen Rant. N.p., 09 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Unattributed photos are property of Dear Darkling.