Imagine a man who is in love with dark fairy tales, horror, monsters, science fiction, and macabre art. Now, imagine this man became so successful making movies that he could afford to buy anything he wanted to put in his house. Finally, imagine this man invited you over to look at his stuff. In essence, this is what Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is: a tour of the great movie maker’s favorite things, displayed to the public at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and continuing until May 28th. (We do not blame Mr. del Toro for not inviting us all over to his home, as kind as it would have been for him to do so.)
Now, I’m just a regular guy. I only know who Richard Avedon is because he took famous photos of The Beatles. My only familiarity with the composer Antonín Dvořák owes to the fact that his music was in a lot of Ren & Stimpy cartoons. That’s why I love this exhibit. I’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Mama, Crimson Peak, and many other movies that del Toro directed or at least had a heavy hand in creating, so to get a glimpse at the inspiration behind his work is a great way to bring a philistine like me to art.
The portal to the exhibit sets the perfect mood. The doorway is framed with evil, blinking reptilian eyes, and therein it sits a giant Angel of Death from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. You’re funneled into the first room of the collection, which revolves around childhood, and are greeted by another statue of the satyr Pan. Eerie, unsettling paintings of creepy children abound in this room, pieces like Gargantua that depicts a hideous, caterwauling baby who dwarfs his caretakers and The Living Room with its two uncomfortable yet ethereal girls reclining by a sofa.
Next you enter the Victoriana room. There are some of del Toro’s insect collection, obscenely complicated cyberpunk pieces, depictions of mankind’s intelligence dominating over dark and supernatural forces, and three of the elaborate dresses from the wardrobe of the gothic Crimson Peak. Original concept art from old Disney movies and whimsical drawings by Edward Gorey (The Gashlycrumb Tinies) remind us that not everything fantastic has to be unsettling as well.
The next room is centered around magic and the occult, fittingly introduced by a scale wax model of the reclusive and enigmatic H.P. Lovecraft, one of America’s founding fathers of science fiction and the inventor of cosmic horror and the Cthulhu mythos. (Del Toro has spent years trying to adapt Lovecraft’s Antarctic adventure At the Mountains of Madness into a Hollywood production.) Here are more movie props, such as Hellboy’s preposterously beefy hand cannon named “Good Samaritan,” original illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and beautifully undetailed landscapes by Eyvind Earle.
Pop culture and comics come next. Two walls display what I imagine are only a fraction of del Toro’s comic book collection, ageing back from when Frankenstein was cutting edge to current interpretations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (One cover displays Alice sitting at the tea table next to John Wayne Gacy in full clown regalia.) The exhibit moves on to body horror, with medical models of cirrhotic livers and birth abnormalities. This room pays homage to one of del Toro’s first loves, the Frankenstein monster, with a massive, perfect recreation of Karloff’s famous portrayal of the abomination.
Freaks follow. Wax models of Koo-Koo the Bird Girl and Pepper from American Horror Story: Freak Show give you a cheery welcome, along with a dapper two-foot-tall guy holding a straight razor and what appears to be a grudge. Spooky old fashioned photos of very politically incorrect circus attractions line the wall along with the exhibit’s usual tableau of unusual paintings. A large illustration by H.R. Giger, who provided design work on the film Alien, fits in perfectly here. The creature within is ridgy, vague, and appears unfriendly.
Just as in real life, the exhibit finally arrives at death. The ambassador to this theme is The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, the emaciated, drooping terror who kept his eyes in the palms of his hands. Here are props from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and concept art of the horrific feeding apparati of the mutant vampires in Blade II. Clips from del Toro’s early work Cronos remind us that man’s search for immortality usually bears little, if any, fruit. Better just to make neat things for people to enjoy after you’re gone.
Notably throughout the entire exhibit are widescreen televisions playing clips from del Toro’s movies. This provides constant context and allows you to appreciate how movies are inspired by art. An ambient soundtrack throughout adds to the impact, whether it’s bold and exciting giant robot music to accompany the Pacific Rim wardrobe or melancholy rain pattering while you look into Edgar Allen Poe’s big, bereaved, drunken eyes.
Whether you’re familiar with del Toro’s work or entirely new to it, strolling through a contemporary visionary’s personal treasure trove makes for an exciting day. Whereas my teeth usually start to itch a few minutes into a conventional art museum exhibit, del Toro’s collection kept me spellbound for a good two hours. Kids will love the bizarre assemblage, especially those fascinated by monsters, and indoor activities are always valuable while a Minnesotan winter languishes in its death throes. I recommend Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters to anyone looking for something strange.
Lasts until May 28
Tues, Wed, & Sat 10 AM – 5 PM
Thurs & Fri 10 AM – 9 PM
Sunday 11 AM – 5 PM
Tickets are $20; general admission to museum is always free
Ticket sales end one hour before museum closes
Minneapolis Institute of Art is located at 2400 3rd Ave S, Mpls
By David Scheller