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Inside Guillermo del Toro's Beautiful, Grotesque Collection At LACMA

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(Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
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Guillermo del Toro: At Home with the Monsters opens to the public today at LACMA. It is a creepy, beautiful, magical journey through one man's obsession with horror, monsters and the macabre. Guillermo Del Toro, 51, began making films when he was only eight years old. He grew up in Guadalajara in a Catholic household, which, as he said at the exhibition's preview on Saturday morning, he never quite acclimated to.

"When I was a child, I was was raised Catholic, but somewhere along the way, I didn't fit with the saints and the churches and the holy men. Somewhere in those years early on, I fit in with the monsters," he said. "And so in the movie Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, I saw a beautiful, innocent creature in a state of grace who was sacrificed for sins he had not committed, who was thrown into the wolf den by an uncaring father. So many things—The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lon Chaney, Jr.—I found that in these monsters was a very moving essence of outsiderness which I identified with fully."

He also attributed his Mexican heritage to his love of monsters as well, noting that their culture is rich with folklore and legend. For him, it's the aesthetic, format, beauty and "graveyard poetry" of horror that has drawn him to the genre, inspiring him to make what he calls fables with the trappings of horror (and the occasional dash of fantasy or science fiction). A casual glance at his filmography—Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, The Devil's Backbone, Pacific Rim, Chronos—would prove his description accurate.

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Inside Guillermo del Toro's Bleak House. (Photo by Josh White/JWPictures.com)

Del Toro's L.A. area home—which he calls Bleak House after the Charles Dickens novel of the same name—is full of art and collectibles relating to horror, the occult, comic books and dark fairy tales. He said he is not a hoarder or collector, but something else, as plays with his toys and reads his comics as opposed to keeping them in boxes or plastic bags. Britt Salvesen, curator and department head at the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and Prints and Drawing Department at LACMA, helped choose about 500 of del Toro's many treasures for the exhibition, which are now arranged along a winding pathway in LACMA's Art of the Americas building. Wandering through the show, which benefits from an eerie, ambient soundscape from composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Making a Murderer), one will find themselves face-to-face with del Toro's own monsters and a vast assortment of grotesque and mesmerizing oddities. It is del Toro's own grim Wunderkammen, which we Angelenos will have the amazing opportunity to peruse through November 27. The exhibit also includes 60 items from LACMA's own permanent collection.

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The Angel of Death (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
A towering statue of the Angel of Death from del Toro's Hellboy II greets visitors as they enter the building. She is both beautiful and horrifying, a perfect taste of what is to come. The exhibit is otherwise organized by various themes that appear frequently in del Toro's work, beginning with the idea of an innocent child who encounters strange horrors. A trope in many fairy tales, one need not look far into del Toro's body of work to find examples. There's the young Ofelia of Pan's Labyrinth and the orphanage that serves as the setting for The Devil's Backbone. Pan's most iconic monster, The Pale Man, lurches in a corner. The little girl in the blue coat from Pacific Rim stands in another. Elsewhere, you'll find a collection of objects that call back to the Victorian era, the age of Gothic horror giants like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Grey. This portion includes costumes from del Toro's most recent film, Crimson Peak, which you'd recognize from the film or the collaboration between del Toro and Universal Studios for the Halloween Horror Nights Crimson Peak dark maze.

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There is an area dedicated to the occult and magic, with numerous busts and portraits of Necronomicon author H.P. Lovecraft. The "Movies, Comics and Pop Culture" section pays homage to pulp horror magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. Here you can also find storyboard art, props and costumes from the Hellboy series (del Toro directed the film adaptation of the Mike Mignola comic).

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Guillermo del Toro, page from Notebook 3. Collection of Guillermo del Toro. (Photo courtesy Insight Editions)

There's a whole room of insects, complete with a projection of fluttering creatures against a dark wall. There are monsters and sideshow characters, and many, many items depicting Mary Shelley's famous monster, Frankenstein. There's a section dedicated to death and what might follow it, where you'll learn that del Toro himself was forced to undergo exorcisms as a child by his austere and religious grandmother, who hoped that they might 'cure' him of his love of horror. Clearly, the exorcisms were unsuccessful in their true purpose, but have no doubt made their way into his creative works. There are also numerous stations where one can digitally 'flip' through del Toro's journal. Each page is full of twisted drawings and careful notations.

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Some pieces that caught this writer's attention included a series of charcoal drawings by artist Stephen Gammell, which you might recognize if you ever read through one of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a child, and a massive Frankenstein head hung over a doorway that you cannot and surely won't miss. One case contains the scarlet helmet worn by the titular character from Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, and there are some fantastically detailed automatons from del Toro collaborator Thomas Kuntz. There is also a lovely recreation of del Toro's own personal Rain Room, not to be confused with LACMA's other 'Rain Room.' Inside of del Toro's home, there is a room where special lighting and sound effects create the illusion of dark window panes being endlessly bombarded with a torrential downpour. This portion of the exhibit features a wax figure of the brooding author Edgar Allen Poe, seated in a leather chair. He is surrounded by artwork from French artist Odilon Redon. Del Toro has said that if there is life after death, he is pretty sure his afterlife "will be art directed by Redon."

While the collection is massive, it is not exhausting. While it is certainly macabre and dark and occasionally dismal, it is easy to see the beauty del Toro finds in these objects, and to understand why he would choose to surround himself with them.

"You can see my movies and over and over again, you will see that I adore monsters, I absolutely love them. I think humans are pretty repulsive," del Toro said. "We live in the pretense. We have invented a series of fantasies that we accept socially that are absolutely terrifying, like geography, gender, race... These are accepted fictions with which we have managed to separate from each other. And the beauty of monsters is that they require our acceptance and our love to survive."

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'The End Steals In' by artist Mark Prent (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
In addition to the exhibit itself, there will also be two guided tours of the collection, as well as numerous screenings of both del Toro's own films and films that inspired the director at LACMA's Bing Theater.

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On Thursday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m., artist, author and historian Dr. Paul Koudounaris will lead a tour of the exhibit "focusing on the cultural history and significant of monsters and the monstrous." On Thursday, August 25 at 7:30 p.m., artist Thomas Kuntz will lead a tour of the exhibit and will discuss his work on Crimson Peak. Both events are free, but RSVPs are full. There is a chance you might get in if you wait in the standby line, which opens at 6:30 p.m. Guests in the standby line will be admitted first come, first serve as spots become available. The screening schedule is below.

Films by Guillermo del Toro:

July 29, 7:30 p.m. The Devil's Backbone
October 21, 7:30 p.m. Pan's Labyrinth
November 4, 7:30 p.m. Hellboy
November 5, 7:30 p.m. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
November 12, 7:30 p.m. Pacific Rim
November 18, 7:30 p.m. Crimson Peak

Films in the 'Fuel of Nightmares' series:

August 2, 1 p.m. Jane Eyre
August 9, 1 p.m. Beauty and the Beast
September 6, 1 p.m. The Young and the Damned
September 13, 1 p.m. The Spirit of the Beehive
September 20, 1 p.m. Fanny and Alexander
September 27, 1 p.m. Kwaidan
October 4, 1 p.m. Shadow of a Doubt
October 11, 1 p.m. Eyes without a Face
October 18, 1 p.m. The Innocents
October 25, 1 p.m. The Night of the Hunter
October 31, 8 p.m. The Bride of Frankenstein

LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. Guillermo del Toro: At Home with the Monsters is located in the Art of the Americas building, and will run through Nov. 27.