Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Guillermo del Toro's At Home With Monsters

I'm excited for Minnesota because the Guillermo del Toro exhibition At Home With Monsters is coming in 2017 after it's finished at the LACMA. The wonderful Lao American artist Jo Bangphraxay and I had the chance to to see it and it's taken a while for me to process it all because there were so many inspiring ideas on display. It challenges the way we organizing one's imaginative thoughts into action. The exhibit certainly speaks well to the benefits of collecting over one's lifetime. Per the exhibition introduction:
"Guillermo del Toro (b. 1964) is one of the most inventive filmmakers of his generation. Beginning with Cronos (1993) and continuing through The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Pacific Rim (2013), and Crimson Peak (2015), among many other film, television, and book projects, del Toro has reinvented the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Working with a team of craftsmen, artists, and actors—and referencing a wide range of cinematic, pop-culture, and art-historical sources—del Toro recreates the lucid dreams he experienced as a child in Guadalajara, Mexico. He now works internationally, with a cherished home base he calls “Bleak House” in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Taking inspiration from del Toro’s extraordinary imagination, the exhibition reveals his creative process through his collection of paintings, drawings, maquettes, artifacts, and concept film art. Rather than a traditional chronology or filmography, the exhibition is organized thematically, beginning with visions of death and the afterlife; continuing through explorations of magic, occultism, horror, and monsters; and concluding with representations of innocence and redemption."

There's a visual poetry to the way the Guillermo del Toro has arranged the exhibit, guiding us through five specific but interlocking themes. It's reminiscent of a Cabinet of Curiosities, one with all of the bells and whistles one could have hoped for. It engages you across multiple senses and I applaud that.

We can see the influence of classical artists, as well as more modern voices. At Home With Monsters is arranged in such a way that we can see what's guiding Guillermo del Toro's present work, and what we've gotten away from in horror and the fantastic compared to the early years.

I felt it spoke to the need for an interdisciplinary engagement with speculative art. You can't get the good stuff without reading both highbrow and lowbrow literature, both the classics and pulp material.

You need it all. Visual artwork and sculptures, as well as an appreciation for cinema from the early years to the present. A sense of history, but those things that also have no basis in fact and the empirical. Much of the exhibit also spoke to a sense of Guillermo del Toro being part of a tradition that goes back centuries, and the need for all of us to respect that. Of course there was an extensive homage to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as Mary Shelly.

A significant amount of attention is given to the exploration of the Frankenstein story, which was fitting considering 2016 was the bicentennial of the dare that led to the creation of this classic horror story. I felt the exhibit gave audiences a thorough opportunity to consider and grapple with the meaning of Frankenstein as a text, as cinema, and in the many other art forms he's been depicted in.

For those of us who are making a sincere study of it, del Toro's presentation is quite thoughtful and I think it pushes us to appraise the possibilities in the tale beyond what we've satisfied ourselves with over the last decade or so. In Frankenstein, we see the intersection between art and science, religion, society, alienation and the quest for meaning. But different art forms can add new subtleties and shades of nuance we can expand upon. Take a look at Frankenstein and consider its thematic and visual influences in Guillermo del Toro's films, for example, such as Pan's Labyrinth or Pacific Rim.

Overall the exhibition has more than enough for the causal enthusiast of not only del Toro's work but science fiction, fantasy, and horror in general.

But the exhibit stands out for its meat for professional artists and writers and I would certainly recommend multiple visits as well as visiting the rest of whatever institution it's shared with because I think it's the rare kind of exhibit that stands alone well, but also helps you view the rest of the standing collection of a museum with a new appreciation. See it if you can!

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