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Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters haunts the AGO - Drew Rowsome - My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters haunts the AGO
by DREW ROWSOME
8 November 2017

When Guillermo del Toro was a child, his grandmother had him exorcised twice. Fortunately neither took.

Not only did del Toro grow up to be a renowned filmmaker, but he is also an obsessive collector. He has saved every book and comic book he ever read. He saved props, costumes, notebooks, sketches and prototypes from his films and acquired many of the same from films he admires. He also acquired curiosities, toys, models, objects that fascinate him, and commissioned artworks as well as collecting it. His collection became so huge that he was forced to purchase a second home, "Bleak House," which doubles as a personal museum and an immersive environment in which he creates.

With At Home with Monsters, del Toro has partnered with art galleries to display some of his vast collection, pairing his treasures with items from the galleries' collections. The Art Gallery of Toronto's version is extraordinary, on one level a voyeuristic look inside an artist's mind, but on a deeper level At Home with Monsters is a visceral tour of our relationship with art, death, horror and inspiration.

There is an extreme beauty in the iconography of horror and At Home with Monsters takes full advantage of the creepy splendour to be found there. There are wax museum displays, sculptures, paintings, film stills, cabinets of curiosities and overwhelming displays of book covers. Every corner reveals a new astonishment. Each visitor will react to particular items, for me, a partial list, would include the mask from Phantom of the Paradise, old editions of Plop! magazine, dark Disney cels, a glistening oil rendering of Ray Harryhausen's stop motion creations, original Hellboy sketches by Mike Mignola, life-size sculptures of John Merrick, HP Lovecraft, the cast of Freaks, and a heartbreaking dance between Frankenstein's monster and Little Maria. All powerful memories of things that disturbed and delighted my childhood and beyond.

The AGO artwork that is integrated into the exhibit is just as intriguing and familiarly unfamiliar. There are delicate silver skulls from the Victorian era, a Mark Prent sculpture, paintings by John Scott (one partially painted with blood), and, most astonishingly, one of the 15 existing copies of Charles Pachter and Margaret Atwood collaboration Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein. The artwork belonging to del Toro is just as impressive with Michael J Deas' "Portrait of HP Lovecraft" and original sketches from Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is a favourite of del Toro's and he hopes to eventually make his own version, based visually on Bernie Wrightson's work. Frankenstein is also a thematic constant, from the giant head depicted photographically in the entranceway, through the multiple sculptures, to the final image and quote from del Toro (which leads into the best gift shop the AGO has had since Frida & Diego featuring, of course, all sorts of Frankenstein merchandise). We learn that del Toro considers Pinocchio to be a version of Frankenstein - del Toro considers early Disney superior because "the best fairy tales are dark and bad things do happen to children" - and that there have been thousands of printings of Mary Shelley's book of which curator Jim Shedden has assembled over 700 covers. Of course that is minuscule compared to the undertaking, with the assistance of The Beguiling, of covering gallery walls with over 50,000 issues of CreepyEerieFamous Monsters of FilmlandRue Morgue and seemingly every fantastical comic book ever published.

And there is most macabre joy at the heart of At Home with Monsters. There is equal weight given to acknowledged masterpieces like Mary Shelly's book or Edgar Allan Poe and the pulp horror that we all consume guiltily. It appears that del Toro has no guilt and his work is luminous because of it. He loves FW Murnaus' Nosferatu as much as Tobe Hooper's version of Salem's Lot. The lush Gothic splendour of Crimson Peak is given equal weight with the haunting creatures of Pan's Labyrinth and the steam punk style of Hellboy. They are all monsters, we are all monsters, and they, we, are all high art and low brow, beautiful and horrific.

There are 13 libraries, arranged thematically, in Bleak House. At Home with Monsters recreates versions of seven of them. As Shedden says, "He is first and foremost a man in love with books." One of the rooms, guarded by ravens and inhabited by, among others, an Edgar Allan Poe sculpture, is the Rain Room. A room down a secret passage, where it rained 24 hours a day so he could meditate, was a dream of del Toro's. So he created it. And the AGO recreated it. And it is as disturbing and delightful, welcoming and repulsing, as the rest of At Home with Monsters. And his grandmother would hate it as much as gallerygoers will be awed by it.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters continues until Sun, Jan 7 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St W. ago.ca

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