“It sounded like a good idea a few years ago,” Guillermo del Toro said with a chuckle at Saturday morning's preview of the new LACMA exhibition that bears his name. The famed film director went on to explain how he had to part (at least temporarily) with possessions from the San Fernando Valley home he calls Bleak House. “I'm not a collector,” del Toro adds, noting that he plays with his toys instead of keeping them mint. Still, he has accumulated a vast array of art and memorabilia, which is now at the center of “Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters.”
This isn't a retrospective in the style of the Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick shows that previously passed through LACMA. “At Home With Monsters,” which was organized by the museum as well as the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Art Gallery of Ontario (where it will travel after closing here), focuses on del Toro's sources of inspiration. While you'll see his notebooks and artifacts from movies such as Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and Crimson Peak, they intermingle with his collection of hulking, lifelike statues, antique books and pieces from present-day artists like James Jean and Chet Zar. Rounding out the exhibition are selected pieces from LACMA's own collection that are thematically similar. The show is divided into eight themes or motifs: Childhood and Innocence; Victoriana; Rain Room; Magic, Alchemy and the Occult; Movies, Comics, Pop Culture; Frankenstein and Horror; Freaks and Monsters; and Death and the Afterlife. References to his films tend to be scattered throughout various sections of the exhibition. In other words, you won't find all the Hellboy pieces in one place.
This is a hefty exhibition and you'll want to carve out a good chunk of time to see it all. (Or, make plans to make multiple trips to LACMA.) Below, we've pointed out some of the highlights perfectly suited to del Toro's films.
1. If you like Cronos, check out Kazuhiro Tsuji's bust of makeup artist Dick Smith.
If you haven't seen Cronos, del Toro's 1993 debut feature film, you should watch it before your trip to LACMA. The movie hits on a lot of the themes in the show; there's alchemy, vampires and even a creepy kid in it. It also makes use of gruesome special-effects makeup and shows the influence of Dick Smith, the pioneering makeup artist who freaked out the world with his work on The Exorcist. In fact, following Smith's death in 2014, del Toro gave an interview to Vulture about the impact the behind-the-scenes icon had on Cronos.
In the back of the exhibition, where you'll find the most references to film and pop culture, there's a massive bust of Smith. Titled “Portrait of Dick Smith, 'A Moment in Summer of 1998,'” the piece was made by Kazuhiro Tsuji, who also has a background in FX makeup. Tsuji is known for massive sculptures of real people such as Andy Warhol and Abraham Lincoln.
2. If you like Hellboy, spend some time in the Magic, Alchemy and the Occult section.
There's a lot of Hellboy and its sequel spread throughout the show; the collection includes props, costumes and original art from Mike Mignola, creator of the comic upon which the movies were based. If you're a Hellboy fan, though, you should plan to explore the Magic, Alchemy and the Occult section thoroughly. This, as you might imagine, is the section where you'll find lots of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft, whose work Mignola has said influenced Hellboy.
There's a tall, stately, hyperreal sculpture of Lovecraft made by artist Thomas Kuebler in this portion of the exhibition. Make sure to look out for other pieces by Kuebler in the show. His silicone sculptures are wonderfully detailed and, frankly, a little disturbing.
3. If you like Pan's Labyrinth, check out del Toro's collection of unnerving Disney art.
Pan's Labyrinth, now about a decade old, remains the quintessential Guillermo del Toro film: a fairy tale with political undertones that is as beautiful as it is tragic. There's a lot of love for the film inside the LACMA exhibition, including a replica of the Faun and the Stone Monolith near the entrance. Nearby, you'll also find a display of Disney art that's mostly creepy. This includes concept pieces from Sleeping Beauty, like the shadowy image of a dragon and a foreboding forest. There's also a piece here from Mary Blair, the famed Disney artist whose name is often associated with It's a Small World. Blair worked on a lot of projects for Disney, and not all of them were as bright as that famed Fantasyland ride. Here you'll see concept art for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Specifically, you'll see the Headless Horseman against a hellish red background, his horse shooting smoky tufts from its nostrils. Further along in the exhibition, you'll also see some of the scarier art from Fantasia.
4. If you like Pacific Rim, look out for the monster makers.
The most interesting, and touching, aspect of “At Home With Monsters” is the reverence del Toro has for the people who influenced him, whether they wrote scary stories or adapted them to the big screen. Over by the bust of Dick Smith is a sculpture called “Ray” by Mike Hill, which depicts late monster-maker Ray Harryhausen in a chair playing with skeletons. There are a few nods to Harryhausen's mastery in the Movies, Comics, Pop Culture section of the exhibition and, since del Toro dedicated Pacific Rim to him (as well as Godzilla director Ishiro Honda) fans of the movie will likely appreciate this section. Keep your eyes peeled during the rest of the tour for more from the stars of the monster world, such as a watercolor from none other than H.R. Giger.
5. If you like Crimson Peak, head to the Rain Room
In the Victoriana section, you'll find direct reference to Crimson Peak, including a collection of stunning costumes from the 2015 film. If you're a fan of del Toro's gothic horror story, make sure you venture beyond here and find the Rain Room. It's almost hidden in this maze of an exhibition, but you'll find it quickly if you listen for the thunderstorm. The room is based on one in del Toro's own home, where he has windows that mimic the look of a rainy day. Here, the storm windows glow in a manner reminiscent of an early scene in Crimson Peak. Sitting in front of the spooky scene is none other than a silicone replica of Edgar Allan Poe. You'll find a good amount of Poe-related art in the area surrounding Rain Room, including art from the 1950s animated adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” If you're into Crimson Peak, it's probably safe to assume you're also a Poe fan, so get ready to nerd out.