AGO Does the Monster Mash

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is currently hosting an incredible exhibit, Guillermo Del Toro: At Home with Monsters from Sept 30, 2017 - Jan 7, 2018 featuring a unique collection of art, comics, storyboards, props, and full size models from the dark mind of Guillermo del Toro.

Fair warning - this exhibit is popular. The first time we tried to go we found out that tickets for the exhibit are sold separately and are often sold out even if there is plenty of room for general admission to the rest of the gallery. Due to the popularity of this exhibit, tickets are sold online (highly recommend you book your tickets online using promo code: friendsandfam for 35% off until Dec 24th) and each ticket includes an entry time to stop the exhibit from becoming overcrowded.

PHOTOGRAPH BY Sebastian McKerracher

Right from the entrance you realize that you’re headed into something pretty special. It begins with a video introduction from Guillermo himself and heads directly into a mock up of Bleak House, a residence of Del Toro’s just outside Malibu which houses his private art collection. The actual Bleak House contains thirteen thematic libraries, each jam packed with books, fine art, comics, paintings, drawings, toys, prints, sculptures, magazines and models. The AGO exhibit, although fairly large, only has room to cover seven of the thirteen themes.

If you thought the exhibit would just be some props from his movies thrown together, think again. At Home with Monsters does a deep dive of the themes from Bleak House, offering insight into the themes that flow through Del Toro’s films, as well as a window into the filmmaker’s mind and soul. The AGO really outdid themselves with brilliant lighting and dark, moody set dressing. To understand how much Guillermo values Bleak House and it’s myriad content, his thoughts are expressed at the entrance:

It’s Everything. It’s the single thing that I have done that expresses me the most completely, more than any of my films. Bleak House is the best thing I’ve done.

Guillermo Del Toro

Beyond the entrance, the very first model is the Pale Man and it immediately brings me back to the terrifying scene in Pan’s Labyrinth. It really draws you in - the level of detail in the props and models in the exhibit are stunning, the full size models look as if they could start moving at any time.

Bride of Frankenstein
PHOTOGRAPH BY Sebastian McKerracher

It’s the details that really get you - the thought, creativity, and attention to detail could only come from someone who was obsessed. The exhibit does go someway to explaining the obsessions of Del Toro. He speaks of his dark childhood, suffering emotionally under a strict Mexican Catholic upbringing to the age of about 10, having a “very intense relationship with the horror of Catholic guilt and the dogma” and goes on to describe Mexican Catholicism as “very, very brutal and very, very gory”.

Perhaps that suffering was worth it as Del Toro has had the good fortune to turn his childhood fantasy obsessions with dark gothic novels, horror movies, the occult, and being an outsider into his adult reality of creating and exploring monsters and the horror genre in a lucrative way which has allowed him to amass such a fantastic collection. He’s even got a “Rain Room” in Bleak House, a space that hosts a perpetual dark and stormy night with lighting projection and fake, rain-splattered windows that he rigged up himself. It also happens to be his favourite place to work:

“It’s incredibly soothing,” he notes. “I drop on a huge sofa and I go into a delicious trance and write for a few hours.”

Rasputin's mecha-glove from Hellboy
PHOTOGRAPH BY Sebastian McKerracher

It’s hard to pick any one highlight of the exhibit - at first glance the full size models of Pale Man, the Faun, and all of the others seem like the biggest draw, but the closer you look, seemingly the more detail emerges on even the smallest props and busts. The level of care and detail from the sketch right to the finished product is infectious and makes you want to explore more. Short of visiting Bleak House itself - I think this is the closest you’ll get to such a collection.

Guillermo Del Toro clearly wants us all to share in his passion for the grotesque, macabre, obscure, and horrific and explore our own internal struggles. It’s kind of charming and sweet in a twisted sort of way. I’ll leave you with his last quote in the exhibit:

“The reason I create monsters and love them is that I think 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.”

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Sebastian Mckerracher

Sebastian McKerracher is a web designer and woodworker. When he isn't sitting behind a computer screen or building a cutting board he sometimes finds time to visit modern art galleries or natural history museums.