To most, Bleak House is more cabinet of curiosities than home. The place is chock-full of props, life-size sculptures, and classic horror memorabilia intermingled seamlessly into the environment so that the director may have tea beside a life-sized HP Lovecraft or bounce ideas off of Edgar Allan Poe – just two examples of wax museum-esque lookalikes that inhabit del Toro’s home.
Bleak House is an unlikely paradise for the artist, who conceives his ideas amid his chaotic menagerie, often referring to an extensive library of horror classics and bringing his projects to fruition in a converted garage studio space where he facilitates production design. As his house contains the strands of his imagination, the curated selection on display at LACMA offers a peek inside del Toro’s mind.
Museum-goers will meet many characters from the director’s canon including the Faun, the supernatural center point of Pan’s Labyrinth, along with the slack-skinned Pale Man, the unforgettable fiend with eyes in his palms poised to chastise the gluttonous. Also on view are a black-shrouded ghost from Crimson Peak and the dizzying wingspan of the Angel of Death from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Other uncanny character replicas make appearances from cult classics including Freaks and several iterations of Boris Karloff’s iconic Frankenstein. The up-close examinations of the characters enhance rather than detract from the movie magic – they hold up to scrutiny, at once repulsive and magnetic.
The exhibition is arranged by theme, filing paintings, drawings, maquettes, and concept film art by category: beginning with visions of death and the afterlife; continuing with explorations of magic and occultism; then concluding with representations of innocence and redemption. As viewers mill through the galleries, they’ll be further transported by an original soundscape composed by Gustavo Santaolalla.
Some consider the exhibit out of place in a museum context, but in the wake of the smash hit reception of MOCA’s 2009 Tim Burton exhibit (which LACMA hosted in 2011), curator Britt Salvesen knew there was an audience ready to receive it. ‘There is a mode of collecting that has this tradition even before museums as institutions existed,’ she told The Guardian. ‘And Guillermo del Toro is really an heir to that type of collecting. The cabinet of curiosities is a way of creating a world in miniature and uniting various objects often endowed with some kind of power, value or beauty and aggregating them together in often seemingly random arrangements that made sense maybe only to the collector.’
In a city like Los Angeles, where thousands of artists participate in every aspect of moviemaking, the show is part mirror. The exhibit portrays the inner workings of the artistic genius we’ve revered on the silver screen. Exploring the memorabilia on view at LACMA, viewers can begin to make out a method to del Toro’s arresting madness.
Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters is on view at LACMA through November 27, 2016.
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