Alright everyone, please grab a coffee, a tea, a glass of wine, whatever is appropriate for the time of day where you are- this review is going to be a tad long. I apologize in advance, there is just so much to cover!
The new Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibition on at the LACMA just now through November 27th is not one to miss. It has been making waves in Los Angeles, and seems to be one of those ‘inspiring’ exhibits that reminds us that the LACMA still exists, and that we should go there from time to time. I have heard so much buzz and excitement about this new exhibition since it opened at the beginning of the month, as it has been drawing all kinds of visitors from various nooks and crannies around Southern California.
Organized between the LACMA, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, this exhibition is a thematic exhibition covering “visions of death and the afterlife; continuing through explorations of magic, occultism, horror, and monsters; and concluding with representations of innocence and redemption” according to the exhibition page on the LACMA website which you can visit by clicking here.
I am going to skip over an introduction of GDT, so that we can move onto the actual review; most people who are reading this blog are already familiar with his background. If you want to read more about him, his website has plenty of info! GDT’s exhibition, I must admit, is exactly what I had expected it to be. It is a feast for the eyes, and in addition the ears. It is disturbing, but in a thought provoking and intelligent way. As the visitor you are able to see into the soul and mind of a genius, who has imagined and created entire worlds where his mind lives; and through his films, we are able to visit them.
I have to first start at the end, and say that after I had finished the exhibition I was keen to purchase a related book, as I have started to collect coffee table books now that I have settled down. I was not fond of the actual book put out specifically for the exhibition, but my fiancée and I liked another book available in the shop, which was Guillermo Del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities. I will go more into the book later, but my emerging point is that after taking this book home and reading it, I developed a whole new appreciation for the exhibition that I did not have before. Most of the items on display, are from his two houses where he keeps his collections of art, sculpture, concept art, and movie relics. His houses are the physical manifestation of a dream home he imagined as a child; in effect, we are literally and metaphorically getting a peak into his brain. So I love the premise, and I love the inspiration- let’s move onto the experience.
I had high expectations for this exhibition, as I had to pay $50 for two tickets. Since it was a ‘specially ticket’ exhibition, I had to buy general tickets with an addition for the GDT exhibition. A bit expensive for my taste, and unfortunately as much as I would love to see this exhibition again (as I believe it would have a tremendous revisit value) I am not sure I can afford that! I wanted to get to the museum early so that I would have the best chance to see the exhibit unencumbered by a thousand other people, so we got there at about 10:30am, thirty minutes after it opened. At the ticket booth, they recommended we go through the GDT exhibit first, as it ‘tends to crowd up’.
We were able to immediately enter, and I was ‘slapped in the face’ so to speak by the giant
Angel of Death sculpture. The color scheme of the charcoall gray and burgundy gives it that Victorian and Gothic connotation. I had no time to read the introductory panel, as we were being shepherded into the crowd by the gallery assistants who wanted to keep the ‘traffic moving’. I am not fond of feeling like a cow in a cattle car at exhibits, but I did several times at this one. The first issue I had was that the first object in the exhibition was a large and deep case that people had to look down into- this brought everyone to a standstill, crowded around the box that had books and manuscripts in it. We could not enter, and we could not get passed the people, and I had to practically climb over people to move into the next space! In my opinion, this was not the best place to put this display case in a high traffic exhibition, especially when considering that at the beginning of an exhibition, people carefully investigate everything and then gradually just briefly look over things as they progress though. In addition, throughout the exhibition there were items that were obviously going to be more popular, such as the original coat from Hellboy that were in corners, so people would pile up trying to see them and not be able to move- you would turn around to walk away and twenty people would be piled up trying to see over your head.
Navigating the rest of the exhibit was in general ‘OK’. It was very maze like, and certain nodes would often crowd up, so I would move on and backtrack. The maze like organization was beneficial though, because it made you feel more closed in, and added to
the ‘cabinet of curiosities’ feel. It also prevented you from being able to see all of the objects at once, meaning that it was a surprise and ‘wow’ moment so to speak every time you entered a new area. In reality, this exhibition had a wonderful aesthetic to its construct, but it was not as conducive for free movement in a high traffic exhibition. I am not sure if that is just how the layout worked for the particular space utilized at the LACMA, or what. I will say, that when working on this layout one would have to sacrifice a certain appeal due to overcrowding, and I personally understand not wanted to sacrifice that vision just because there are almost ‘too many’ visitors! I did notice when we left the LACMA later in the afternoon that there was a line around the building waiting to get into the GDT exhibit, so they do have some kind of limit for the number of people that space can possibly occupy… I have a feeling that the fire and safety regulation surpasses the amount of people that would be able to reasonably see, enjoy, and learn in the exhibit space.
The objects in the exhibit were fantastic. What a privilege it is for GDT to own so many wonderful things, and how great it is for us that he has decided to share! I have a slideshow beneath this paragraph of some of my favorite objects from the exhibition, so please check those photos out. Some of the sculptures, for example his life size full body sculpture of H.P. Lovecraft, were amazing- they looked so real, even up close, a couple of times I just was positive that it was going to move and say ‘boo’. I also enjoyed the Disney concept art, especially the works based off of Sleeping Beauty.
The object display, aside from the issues I previously mentioned with the high volume of traffic, were all displayed very well. The track lighting was positioned to perfection, allowing for a dramatic overhead lighting that cast shadows beneath the objects and accentuated their ‘creepiness’. I would also like to take a moment to talk about how beautiful the cases were! Available budget aside, I loved the display cases and how simply styled they were to evoke the look of old cabinets, or gothic architectural themes- they really added to the exhibition in a subtle way.
The overall interpretation of the exhibition was, at risk of sounding a bit harsh, was mediocre. Having said that, this was not meant to be an exhibition that explores a multi view historical period and challenges preconceived notions about it. If you are looking for a strong, compelling, and innovative historical analysis, this is not the exhibition for you.We are looking at GDT, and some historical things that have happened to inspire him. There are several odes to Lovecraft, Dickens, and artists that he has been fascinated by. As a result of this, there are several items that the LACMA has thrown in to ensure that they too have staked their claim in the exhibition. For instance, there is one particular Gothic chair that was put into a corner, and to me it just creams, “We need a tall and relevant object that is strong enough to sit on its own in this empty corner!” As far as the material on GDT himself, we cannot really argue against what he has had a hand in providing about himself!
I also mentioned that there were a lot of extra sensory stimuli, such as the video screens that were playing clips from GDT films, that provided sound and context. One of the clips had a very loud base sound that reverberated through the exhibition space. I liked this sound, but I could tell that it irritated some visitors who had their hands over their ears. There were also around four iPad stations, that had a small Perspex box above containing an open journal from GDT, which you could digitally browse through on the iPad. My fiancée and I loved the journals, which was a big part of why we purchased the book we did (it contains copies from GDT’s journals with translations).
There were so many little touched about this exhibition that are overall pleasant. The cloud projection on the ceiling. The black caging overhead. The displays that required you to look over, under, into, and through to engage the eye and the body. The eclectic displays that accented key stand-alone objects, and grouped others together. The classic gallery set up for art, and the
asymmetrical collage display for other framed models and shadow boxes centered over a display case. The exhibit was simultaneously set up to accommodate both the casual visitor looking to just walk through, and the highly investigative visitor who is going to read every label and press their nose against the glass of every case.
There are so many different points from which one can enjoy this exhibition: is it because you are a movie buff like me? Are you fascinated by death? Are you an artist looking for inspiration? Are you looking for validation as a complex intellectual? Whatever it is within this genre, it is there for you. I saw so many different kinds of people in this exhibition that were all ages. I saw the classic middle class museum members in their 60s there, and I saw teenagers with long hair and old skate shoes. I saw college kids, and tourists. I saw people with tattoos, and people with their toddlers. Everyone had something in common, and that was a sense of wonder at what GDT creates, and lives amongst. My fiancée, as a first generation Hispanic, enjoyed the connection to the superstitious cultural aspect of the exhibition, and that kind of ‘forbidden’ fascination with that that goes against the grain and against Catholicism.
There is not much that I would personally look to change about this exhibition, aside from experimenting with moving a few things around to try to help promote the flow of foot traffic. But even then, sometimes things don’t work and they have to be left as is. This is nothing abnormal because I usually always recommend exhibitions, but if you are fascinated by the macabre, by the twists in the human mind, or by fantasy worlds unthinkable to the rest of us, please go visit the GDT exhibition, and take a walk through the mind of GDT himself. I hope you will enjoy visiting his home, and visiting his monsters! Thanks for reading.
Peace and long life.