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Guillermo del Toro: At LACMA, At Home With His Monsters

With works like Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak, Mexican author Guillermo del Toro has proved to have a fascination with darkness and an extraordinary eye for detail. His visually striking films and his unique vision has inspired the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to feature the filmmaker’s work in a major museum retrospective.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters (open until November 27, 2016) takes its audience on a journey through the director’s creative process. With over 500 objects on view, the exhibition offers elaborately illustrated pages from his notebooks, three dimensional recreations of his monsters, and a wide collection of artifacts and artworks that he commissioned during his 30 year career as a filmmaker. During this time the director has amassed a collection of sculptures, paintings, books and curiosities that he kept at the Los Angeles home and workspace he calls “Bleak House” in reference to the literary work of Charles Dickens.

With the help of a team of artists and actors and referencing a wide range of cinematic, pop culture and art historical sources, del Toro recreates the dreams he experienced as a child in Guadalajara, Mexico. “It’s the single thing that I have done that expresses me the most completely, more than any of my movies,” explained, the director in the press release.

Director Guillermo Del Toro's exhibition at LACMA. 2016

Rather than chronicling del Toro’s career, the exhibition is organized thematically, beginning with representations of dead children (Innocence and Childhood), continuing through Victoriana, which incorporates the style, furnishings and atmosphere of the Romantic, Victorian and Edwardian ages, that conflict with the industrial revolution, another theme in his movies. Those are followed by explorations of magic, occultism, horror, and monsters (Freaks and Monsters to Frankenstein and Horror) concluding with visions of Death and the Afterlife and then a collection of themed movie clips edited by Javier Soto. The exhibit ranges from horror literature to Dickens, Borges and Lewis Carroll, and from fantastic art to Piranesi, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, William Blake and Goya. Thematically there’s a clear line between the movies and notebooks, pre-production sketches and the memorabilia of the movies he has produced in the last three decades.

As you are taken through the Bleak House, it’s not just sculptures and figures that adorn the space but actual life size reproductions of scenes and mannequins making for a surreal décor. A gigantic replica of Frankenstein’s head and two figures from Pan’s Labyrinth, The Faun, the woodland spirit who in the movie guided the young Ofelia through a fantasy realm, and his counterpart, the Pale Man, a demon with his eyes in the palms of his hands, which is as terrifying in real life as it is in the movie, greet the visitor.

Other highlights included in the sculpture gallery are the works by Thomas Kuebler and Mike Hill, a life size reproduction of Boris Karloff, shirtless, reclining in a barber chair while makeup man Jack Pierce puts the finishes touches on his Frankenstein makeup.

The enthusiastic filmmaker’s mission is to share with the visitor the world that exists in his head, not only the movies he made, but the things he likes. In the exhibit you see some of the first books he bought when he was a child, beautiful objects, mechanical automatons, rare children’s illustrated books with original illustration by Arthur Rackman, pieces by Kay Nielson (concept artist for Disney’s Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty) or a beautiful large format painting of “The Ring of the Nibelung” one of the key illustrations for “Gulliver’s Travels.”

LACMA offers two film programs in conjunction with the exhibit: “Guillermo del Toro,” a series of his movies, shown on selected dates (until Nov.18) and “Fuel for Nightmares: A Curated Series of Guillermo del Toro’s Inspirations, Influences and Favorite Films,” with matinees on selected Tuesdays (until Oct.25) plus a special screening of The Bride of Frankenstein (Oct.31).