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Guillermo del Toro is 'At Home with Monsters' in new Mia exhibit

A sculpture of the Faun from 'Pan's Labyrinth'
A sculpture of the Faun from 'Pan's Labyrinth'Jay Gabler/MPR

by Jay Gabler

March 04, 2017

"We still have to 'zuzz' her hair," said curator Gabriel Ritter, standing next to a life-size model of the Bride of Frankenstein. "Is that a technical term?"

Ritter, an expert on contemporary art, was in only semi-charted territory Thursday morning as he led press on a tour of Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters. The exhibit, which opens tomorrow at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), is a hybrid comprising both objects from the director's personal collection and dozens of complementary pieces from Mia's holdings, selected in partnership with del Toro.

The show is co-presentation with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Art Gallery of Ontario, but its genesis was in Minneapolis: specifically, on a treadmill where Mia director Kaywin Feldman was reading a 2011 profile of del Toro in The New Yorker. She reached out to del Toro, and together they hatched the idea for At Home with Monsters.

The title is both metaphorical and literal: the 52-year-old Mexico-born director lives in a Los Angeles home he calls "Bleak House," full of his personal collection of art and props. Visiting Mia through May 28 is the next-best thing to visiting Bleak House; in the del Toro exhibit, artifacts from movies like Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim stand alongside cabinets of curiosities, vintage horror drawings, and artworks that expand on the show's core themes.

A model of the Pale Man from 'Pan's Labyrinth'
A model of the Pale Man from 'Pan's Labyrinth'
Jay Gabler/MPR

Those themes, corresponding to individual galleries in the show, are "Childhood and Innocence"; "Victoriana"; "Rain Room" (a space where false windows and sound effects create the illusion that it's always raining outside); "Magic, Alchemy and the Occult"; "Movies, Comics, and Pop Culture"; "Frankenstein and Horror"; "Freaks and Monsters"; and "Death and the Afterlife."

("Bleak House" is actually the title of a Charles Dickens novel about an endless probate court battle, a subject that has nothing to do with the del Toro exhibit but will resonate with Minnesotans who have been following the endless trickle of news out of Carver County.)

The exhibit's marquee attractions — so to speak — are life-size models of characters from del Toro's film. Some, including the Pale Man and Faun from Pan's Labyrinth, are recreations made by del Toro's special effects team specifically for this exhibit — while others, notably the Angel of Death from Hellboy II, are actual props used on screen.

An exhibit so closely tied to movie special effects is bound to draw comparisons to the wildly popular but controversial 2000 visit of Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. Though At Home with Monsters has some eye-popping treats for movie buffs, it's much more intimately linked to Mia's collection. The thematic arrangement allows for ready connections between the work of del Toro and that of, say, Francis Bacon.

A painting by Chris Mars
A painting by Chris Mars
Jay Gabler/MPR

Each iteration of the exhibit, which opened in L.A. and will next travel to Canada, features objects from the respective home museum's collection. At an encyclopedic museum like Mia, that means not just Bacon but also the likes of Iowa icon Grant Wood and local hero Chris Mars — a painter of the macabre who also happens to have been the founding drummer of the Replacements.

In addition to paintings and film props, At Home with Monsters also includes such curiosities as eerie models of the writers H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe; a giant sculpture of the face of Frankenstein's monster; and conceptual creatures from as-yet-unrealized del Toro projects. Oscar-winning film composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Babel) composed a stormy original score for the exhibit, and montages highlight del Toro preoccupations (stabbing, licking).

"There really is no distinction between high and low culture" for del Toro, Ritter explained on Thursday morning. That's also true of many contemporary artists, and At Home with Monsters comes at a time when graphic novelists and filmmakers — even those whose work, like that of del Toro, might once have been dismissed as "genre" fare — are increasingly being recognized as part of a conversation that also encompasses fine art.

The new exhibit effectively makes that argument, drawing you into del Toro's wide-ranging, seductively creepy imagination — as well as into the imaginations of the underappreciated artists who inspired him.

Join The Current on March 16 for a free performance by Graveyard Club at Mia as part of Third Thursday: At Home with Monsters.