Sunday, December 4, 2016

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

We went to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with our son, Hunter and his girlfriend, Mallory.  Hunter knows we always want to visit museums and he insisted it be the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA).  Why? Because he wanted to see an exhibition on fantasy and monsters.  Not exactly the reason my wife and I go to museums!  Hunter, however, as a child was into comics and later Zombies and has recently scripted a horror film short, so I figured we had to keep an open mind.

The exhibition,  "Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters" was organized by The Art Gallery of Ontario, Minneapolis Institute of Art and LACMA.  What a surprise we had!  At each venue the host institution has added to del Toro’s personal collection from their own holdings including a number of Old Master paintings and prints. Of the more than 500 works in the Los Angeles presentation 60 were from LACMA’s collection.

For those as ignorant as I, Guillermo del Toro (1964 - ) is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer, and novelist. In his filmmaking career, del Toro has created Spanish-language dark fantasy pieces, such as, his most famous, Pan's Labyrinth (2006), which we had seen when it came out but had not put it together with his name before we saw the show.  In contrast he also had worked on the Hobbit series.  For a filmography see,

The exhibiition explores del Toro’s creative process by bringing together elements from his films, objects from his vast personal collection of sculpture, paintings, prints, photography, costumes, ancient artifacts, books, maquettes, and film. His "libraries" of objects are installed much as they are in his suburban Los Angeles home which he has appropriately named "Bleak House".  The organization is by themes such as innocence and childhood, magic, occultism, horror and monsters, with visions of death and the afterlife.  Since del Torro thinks of his collection as a source of continuous inspiration and devotes sketchbooks to his thoughts some of these are incorporated into the exhibition.

The show is peppered with effective sculptural vignettes of famous people and characters in del Toro’s world.  In one we see a sculpture of Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) a visual effects creator, writer and producer.  Another shows on the wall an illustration of Boris Karloff as the monster in Son of Frankenstein,1993 by Basil Gogos as well as a sculptural scene for the film. Both sculptures are by Mike Hill.

Though they come from different eras LACMA’s Rosa Bonheur  (1822-1899) of “The Wounded Eagle, 1870, and a print by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1728) from a series of imaginary prisons, 1761 fit in perfectly.

Finally a painting of Lady Beatrice Sharpe from the film Crimson Peak, 2015, by Daniel Horne and a portrait vignette of del Toro himself with some of his characters.

In the excellent book published in conjunction with the exhibition there is an interview with del Toro where he says, "The relationship we have with art is very fetishistic because art is a spiritual phenomenon.  Art is explaining to you all the things you can't put into mere words."  After reading this I asked our son what drew him into a similar devotion, though in a different realm of the fantastic. He replied that he was interested in, "where the imagination can go if reality is one step removed."  That is an excellent description of the exhibition we saw.  We were drawn into another world.

We saw the exhibition on its last weekend so you will need to content yourselves with the book and its many color illustrations at what I thought was a reasonable price at a bit over $30 for a non museum member.


  1. I just returned to this (Gerald Stiebel's) blog after missing it for several weeks. I went back and read the postings I had missed. Once again it was confirmed to me by my reading that this blog - MISSIVES FROM THE ART WORLD - is the best offering currently in the blogosphere. It teaches, illuminates, explores, and delights. Keep it up, Gerald!! And thanks.

    1. Thanks so much. Now I have to live up to that flattery every week. Make sure everyone that you saw the blog with 7 images not the one which went out in error with 2