By: Lauren Kaminski
Halloween is over, but the Art Gallery of Ontario continues to celebrate the spirit of mystery and thrills. During the fall and winter season, the frightful and peculiar imagination of famed Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro is brought to life in the AGO’s exhibit, At Home With Monsters. It offers a unique beyond-the-screen view of the inspiration and processes Del Toro uses to create his art.
An audio guide narrated by the filmmaker completes the experience.
“This exhibition presents a small fraction of the things that have moved me, inspired me, and consoled me as I transit through life. It’s a devotional sampling of the enormous love that is required to create, maintain, and love monsters in our lives,” Del Toro said.
The exhibit displays approximately 500 relics from the director’s personal collection of paintings, sculptures, artifacts and original sketches. It also houses costumes and props from his film sets, many of which he keeps in Bleak House, his residence and source of inspiration in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Del Toro said that creating Bleak House is the best thing he’s ever done.
“It’s everything. It is the single thing that I have done that expresses me the most completely, more than any of my films,” he said. Toronto currently has the privilege of viewing this storied work and what inspires a master of horror and fantasy every day.
Before the At Home With Monsters appearance at the AGO on Sept. 30th, the exhibit debuted at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and then the Los Angeles County Museum of Art later in the summer, and will continue to run in Toronto through Jan. 7.
“By witnessing his incredible creative process, we can make unexpected connections among different genres and narratives, high art and pop culture, and blur boundaries between fantasy and reality," co-curator Jim Shedden said in a statement.
Presented in glass cases and life-like sculptures are the supernatural fantasies that emerged from Del Toro’s lifelong work of bringing Monsters to life in his chilling films, which include Hellboy,Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak.
The exhibit is broken into eight different themed sections. They are built on themes like pop culture, the Victorian era, and Frankenstein. Each section is inspired by subjects that fascinate Del Toro and provide the framework for his darkly charming films.
‘Childhood and Innocence’ is the first section of the showroom, dedicated to Del Toro’s youth. It provides an understanding of the artist’s soul and inspiration through the lens of his childhood experiences. The section seems to have a theme of childhood vulnerability and the loss of innocence, which may be based on Del Toro’s dark memories of his own childhood. He said his grandmother, who was extremely religious, used to scare him as a little boy. He once told Metro News that she could be compared to the unstable mother character in Stephen King’s Carrie.
"In fairytales ogres and wolves eat children, and I think that it goes to the root of storytelling, to have children as vulnerable,” he said.
Immediately upon entrance to the showroom, visitors are greeted by a life-sized and incredibly realistic ‘Pale Man’, a villain from Del Toro’s 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth. With flesh that appears melted, a habit of eating children, and red eyes on its palms, Del Toro said that this monster is actually capable of scaring him. He wanted it in the ‘Childhood and Innocence’ section because he said the Pale Man literally eats innocence
Presented in glass cases and life-like sculptures are the supernatural fantasies that make Del Toro’s films so thrilling. Along with the Pale Man are 21 other life-sized sculptures, modelled after characters from classic horror films, along with some of Del Toro’s own movies. The frightening Angel of Death from Hellboy 2: The Golden Army looms in one area. The ghostly character ‘Santi’ in The Devil’s Backbone is illuminated by special effects, creating an unsettling experience.
There is a clear Disney influence in this section, which can be seen in the artwork. The filmmaker said he believes Walt Disney had “an incredibly dark side,” and that “his films have some of the scariest sequences ever created.” He described some ominous scenes from the classic films, such as the death of Bambi’s mother and the Evil Queen becoming a witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Perhaps Disney inspired much of his work by his mixing of whimsy and darkness to create a captivating magic.
The rain room is another alluring part of the exhibit to walk through. It is a replica of Del Toro’s favourite place in Bleak House. With a fake window that displays a constant rain storm, it sets the perfect atmosphere for some of Del Toro’s chilling stories.
Toward the end of the showrooms is a corner with walls stacked from floor to ceiling with over a thousand comic books. They provide both the inspiration for Del Toro’s works as well as a fun photo background for attendees.
Frankenstein’s monster resides in the final section. A seven-foot bust of the character looms in the room, surrounded by various figures from the classic Mike Hill film. Del Toro’s deep love of Frankenstein, and his compassionate view of the unaccepted monster influenced this part of the exhibit.
Some gallery members find meaning in the showroom outside of their own interests.
“I’m not a huge fan of horror, but the actual craftsmanship and the artistic level that is brought to Del Toro’s work makes it a fantastic exhibit,” said attendee Frank Meschkuleit, who is a voice actor and puppeteer. “I think it speaks to a non-traditional audience for the gallery.”
Yesica Covaleda, a student at the University of Toronto, is a big fan of comics and horror films. She believes that the exhibit did the films justice.
“Hellboy is my favourite movie [by Del Toro]. I think that the exhibit did a good job of capturing the movie, especially through showing costume design parts specifically.” She said that she really liked the replica of the Angel of Death, as well as the artwork of Kronen’s clockwork vest. She also admired the props for Hellboy's gun and his leather jacket.
At Home With Monsters is not solely for adults or horror fans. “The exhibit is being pushed more for its art merit,” said Andrew Adbool, a protection services officer at the AGO. He explained that during the daytime, lots of students from high schools and elementary schools come to view the exhibit.
Because of the heavy traffic during school hours, Adbool recommends that the best time to attend the exhibit is just after 3:30 p.m. For those who want to experience the eerie exhibit in the dark of the night, Adbool said it’s best to book tickets in advance.
An ominous quote from Del Toro hangs at the exit, left for attendees to ponder upon: “The reason I create monsters and love them is that they speak to a very deep, spiritual part of ourselves. It is my most cherished desire that as you leave the exhibition, the monsters follow you home, and that they live with you for the rest of your life.” Certainly, one cannot leave At Home With Monsters lightly and forget the strange wonders it houses.