10 freaky items from Guillermo del Toro’s monstrous AGO show


GUILLERMO DEL TORO: AT HOME WITH MONSTERS at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West). $16.50-$25. To September 30. ago.net.

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is known for creating fantastic and horrifying worlds – he also lives in one.

The Oscar-nominated director of Pan’s Labyrinth and recent Venice prize winner The Shape Of Water is a prolific collector of art, curios, artifacts, film props and more, which he keeps in his Bleak House residence outside of Los Angeles.

Many of the items from his private collection, as well as props and costumes from his own films – including Cronos, Hellboy and Pale Man – are now on display as part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s fall exhibition, Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters.

“I’m not a collector or a hoarder, but I’ve made a church to ignite my spiritual imagination,” the filmmaker explained to press gathered for a preview earlier this week.

The exhibition, which debuted at the Minneapolis Institute of Art earlier this year before travelling to Los Angeles, opens at the AGO on Saturday (September 30) and runs through January 7.

The show is grouped into major themes – the Victorian era, monsters, alchemy and pop culture – that have informed del Toro’s work. Some of the items are what you would expect from a genre director/rich eccentric. Other pieces are eyebrow-raising, even by del Toro standards. Here are 10 freaky items from the show.

1. Hidden Mothers

Part of the show includes works from the AGO’s collections that complement del Toro’s macabre visions. The filmmaker selected a number of photos from the 1870s of babies held by their mothers shrouded in cloth behind them. Today we can crop out a parent’s hands holding up babies for a squirmy passport photo, but back then viewers were supposed to ignore the ominous, cloth-covered human shape looming behind the infant.


Samuel Engelking

2. Guillermo del Toro in monster mask with his sister Susan, around 1970

A rare instance in which the filmmaker is visible in the exhibit, this Polaroid shows del Toro as a boy, wearing a creepy mask and staring directly at the camera.


Samuel Engelking

3. Chopin V. 2.0, Brian Poor

Mechanical artist Brian Poor takes a popular bust of Polish composer/pianist Frédéric Chopin and replaces everything above the jaw with an animatronic mouth and eyes. Not for the faint of heart.


Samuel Engelking

4. The Coachman And His Brother, Travis Louie

The otherworldly art of Queens, New York, painter Travis Louie places fantastical people and creatures within the formal social constructs of Victorian and Edwardian times. In this unsettling painting from del Toro’s collection, a man with hauntingly milky eyes wears a top hat while a tiny creature perches above.


Samuel Engelking

5. Santi from the Devil’s Backbone

Peek around a blackened corner, and you’ll see an illuminated boy – the ghostly orphan character Santi from del Toro’s 2001 Gothic horror film – seemingly floating in its own space, thanks to some visual trickery.


Samuel Engelking

6. The Rain Room

The Rain Room features two windows with a dark window and a rain effect behind it, recreating the stormy Rain Room in Bleak House, a space that provides the kind of atmosphere the director requires when coming up with new work. Here, a Thomas Kuebler-created figure of Edgar Allan Poe sits before the windows.


Samuel Engelking

7. Albino Penguin

This grotesque, strangely beautiful emaciated penguin is a piece of concept art for del Toro’s proposed adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s sci-fi/horror novella At The Mountains Of Madness. “It represents a film he may never make but he has to make,” exhibition curator and AGO’s manager of publishing Jim Shedden told NOW during the preview. “The studio wouldn’t fund it if he didn’t rewrite so it wouldn’t get an R rating, and he wouldn’t do that.”


Samuel Engelking

8. Simon Metz (Schlitzie)

Today, babies born with the brain condition microcephaly have been linked to Zika-infested mosquitos in tropical locales. However in 1932, a microcephaly-suffering man named Simon “Schlitzie” Metz was a carnival sideshow performer who starred in the Tod Browning film Freaks. The Kuebler sculpture of Schlitzie featured in the show is emblematic of the kind of outsiders del Toro is drawn to.


Samuel Engelking

9. Speeches For Dr. Frankenstein

An unexpected addition to the exhibit is this poetry collection by Margaret Atwood and illustrated by Charles Pachter. At one time, there were only 14 copies of the unbound text that told Mary Shelley’s story from the monster’s point of view, and this addition to the Toronto exhibit makes all kinds of sense when you note the placement of the book beside the giant head of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster (made by renowned portrait sculptor Mike Hill).


Samuel Engelking

10. The End Steals In, Mark Prent

From del Toro’s collection, this piece by controversial Canadian sculptor Mark Prent gives a front view of a naked woman lounging on a chaise, while the disturbing back view presents a collection of boils popping out of her back. “I can barely look at it,” says Shedden. “It makes perfect sense that [del Toro] would own the piece and we made it pretty central. I stand behind [that decision] even though I don’t want to look at it.”

art@nowtoronto.com | @KellyKaliopi



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