Guillermo del Toro loves monsters—"the patron saints of otherness," as he calls them—so much that the director has filled an entire home in the Valley with monster memorabilia. His very own Bleak House, which takes its name from a Charles Dickens novel, is not a testament to horror, though; instead it's a shrine of graveyard beauty, a place to be inspired by the work of his peers and heroes. It's also the subject of an exhibition that's essential for Del Toro fans and a remarkable must-see for any lover of art, film or literature.
The director's personal collection has spilled out of Bleak House and into LACMA's galleries—"it was like something being amputated"—for Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, which runs through November 27. Step inside the Art of the Americas building and you'll find props and maquettes from films like Pan's Labyrinth and Hell Boy, monster movie memorabilia and personal notebooks stuffed with years of movie outlines alongside about 60 pieces of fine art from LACMA's permanent collection. Altogether, the exhibition rounds up 500 works that form, as Del Toro puts it, "a slightly terrifying exploded view of my brain."
If you've seen any of Del Toro's films, you know what they look like but probably have a tough time figuring out what to call them other than vaguely "dark fantasy." LACMA steers clear of pinning the auteur to any one genre and instead celebrates his synthesis of influences; he's as interested in beauty as horror, with cinematic worlds that combine Victorian contraptions and Dickensian characters into stories that are equal parts Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Disney (Disney is particularly well-represented in the exhibition, with artwork from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion and more Sleeping Beauty images than the Eyvind Earle retrospective at Forest Lawn).
At Home with Monsters mimics Bleak House's assortment of treasures with crimson-colored walls, gothic-style cabinets filled with curios and even Rain Room—no, not that Rain Room—a replication of Del Toro's personal persistent digital thunderstorm.
Installation photograph, Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 1–November 27, 2016, photo © Joshua White/JWPictures.com
Guillermo del Toro's Bleak House. Photo © Joshua White/JWPictures.com
The exhibition uses Bleak House and its collection of personal work and contemporaries' creations as a way to showcase both Del Toro's collection and his creative process. The gallery spaces are broken up thematically: childhood and innocence; Victoriana; magic, alchemy and the occult; movies, comics and pop culture; Frankenstein and horror; freaks and monsters; and death and the afterlife.
It's a lot to take in, and the compartmentalized spaces don't always offer an efficient way to explore the overwhelmingly stocked display cases. Moreover, Del Toro's own works are so closely displayed next to his influences that sometimes it's hard to tell what's what—but that clearly seems to be the point, that Del Toro has taken his love for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion creatures and crafted a marvelous vision that is singularly his own.
Before the exhibition opened, Del Toro sat down with LACMA director Michael Govan and curator Britt Salvesen for a Q&A. He shared thoughts about his relationship with monsters, his all-inclusive love of art and literature, and his identity as a Mexican filmmaker ("What's Mexican about your movies? Me."). He also spoke extensively about Bleak House, which he sees not as a market-valued collection but as a place for play and inspiration, and one of his finest creations. The day he "croaks"—which Del Toro jokingly suggests will be from traffic on the 101—he hopes the house will stay as it is, as a reference library and a place for artists to live and work for six months at a time.
Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters runs at LACMA through November 27. Timed tickets for the exhibition cost $27 and include access to the rest of the museum.