Bleak House Is My Happy Place

img_3091I cannot even begin to describe how happy the AGO exhibit “Guillermo Del Torro: At Home with Monsters” made me.  I first heard about this exhibit years ago when it was appearing in art galleries in the USA and I was devastated that I would not be able to see it.  But, when I heard on Day 1 of Fan Expo this year that the exhibit was coming to Toronto I knew I finally had my chance.  The wait from September to now has been agonizing, especially since I saw so many of my friends posted pictures of the exhibit on Facebook long before I even knew if/when I would be able to go.  Months ago, my boyfriend had a business trip to Toronto but I was not able to tag along because of my schedule so I had to settle for the pictures of the exhibit that he texted to me.  I cried a little.  I knew my mom was due for a Toronto business trip, so I constantly pestered her to pick a travel date (one that would also work well for me, of course) so that I could crash in her hotel – and I promised to take her to the exhibit with me.  Finally, we were able to make something work.  I literally came to Toronto for only 24 hours just to see this exhibit.

It was so worth it.

I have seen most of Del Torro’s films – and have all of the ones I’ve seen in my DVD/Blu-Ray collection – and his other films have ended up on my “To Watch” list even before I saw the exhibit (I have some serious movie watching to do now).  I have always appreciated his work and have been a huge fan of his since I first saw Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy II: The Golden Army.  I have also read a few critical texts about his films both through school and for pleasure and I really appreciate the thought that goes into his work.  Probably the main reason that I admire his work is due to his use of special effects.  He is a director who tends to use practical effects and costumes over CGI, and that is always something I enjoy in movies.  I would rather see a puppet, or a person in a costume (*cough* Doug Jones *cough*) than see a crappy CGI rendition of a monster.  Any time I see Del Torro’s name attached to an upcoming film, I know I’m in for a treat.

img_2895I had never been to the Art Gallery of Ontario before and there were definitely some ups and downs as far as the gallery itself was concerned.  The space itself is absolutely gorgeous and the stairs leading up to “At Home With Monsters” were decorated with pictures of books from Guillermo Del Torro’s collection.  The downside is that, overall, the gallery staff were pretty awful.  There was really only one staff member who was kind and pleasant; the rest either took a bit of conversation before they warmed up or they were just downright rude.  As our tour of the gallery was slotted for one of the later openings, I got the sense that a lot of the employees didn’t actually want to be there and that their only concern was closing down the gallery to get home.  Their gift store policies were also rather odd.  There is a boutique at the end of the exhibit that has all sorts of fun stuff for sale that is related to Del Torro’s collection and there is the main gift shop for the gallery.  Because our tour of “At Home With Monsters” ended just as the exhibits were closing we assumed we would have half an hour to browse the gift shop before the entire gallery closed (as the main gift shop stays open half an hour later).  Unfortunately, when we got to the “At Home With Monsters” gift shop we were prevented from browsing as that boutique closes at the same time as the exhibit.  I was even trying to decide on a book to buy and I was told I was not allowed to buy anything and that I had to leave.  The gift shop was filled with people and we were all kicked out and told we couldn’t buy anything.  The downstairs gift shop, although open longer, only had a small selection of items that were in the Del Torro themed gift shop so I ended up not buying anything (my mother did buy me a pair of Pale Man themed gloves though).  There were clearly a lot of people who wanted to make purchases from the Del Torro gift shop who couldn’t because it closed half an hour earlier than the main gift shop so not only was it frustrating, but from a business standpoint it just seems odd that the AGO would prevent their visitors from spending more money.  So really, the only downside of the whole experience was the gallery itself – I think there would have to be a really special exhibit going on for me to ever consider going back there.  Thankfully, “At Home With Monsters” was beyond phenomenal.

The exhibit based on Del Torro’s personal collection in “Bleak House” – his home named after the novel by Charles Dickens – and is made up of books, comics, antiques, movie props and costumes (from Del Torro’s films and from other films), artwork, wax figures, and TV screens displaying film clips and interviews.  But rather than organize everything by type of item, the exhibit is divided up by themes that are relevant to both Del Torro’s films and his life.  Some of these categories provided insight into Del Torro’s lifestyle and creative process, others provided a new way of looking at his films.  And some were just fun collections.  These themes included: Childhood & Innocence; The Sinister World of Disney; Victoriana; Insects; Rain Room (this room is based on Edgar Allen Poe); Death & the Afterlife; Magic, Alchemy & The Occult; Outsiders; Hellboy; Movies, Comics & Pop Culture; Frankenstein & Horror.  So as you can see, it was quite a diverse and interesting exhibit.  And to tie it all together was a live pianist playing dark and sombre music – it really elevated the tone of the exhibit and was the perfect finishing touch.

I honestly cannot even begin to describe how I felt.  I was so happy in that exhibit.  My mom and I were there for over 2 hours (and we could have easily stayed there for much longer) and I took well over 200 pictures (only 62 of them are in this blog post).  Each time we turned a corner I’d think “Ok I see a wall there, it must be over soon.”  But then a new section would appear!  There was never the sense that it was dragging on too long – never a moment of “oh no, not more…”.  Each time we reached a new section my reaction was more along the lines of “Yes! It’s not over yet!  That looks cool!  I recognize that prop/costume! Etc… Etc…”  I could easily live in the exhibit.  And that’s why I’m so jealous of Guillermo Del Torro – he lives with all of this stuff in Bleak House!  It must be so hard for him to part with this mind blowing collection.  Even if I didn’t know who he was as a director, I would still be immensely impressed with his work as a collector.  He has comics and Stephen King books in his collection, and he’s friends with Doug Jones – Del Torro is a pretty cool guy.

So just in case it wasn’t already super obvious from my cosplay plans, facebook posts, and blog posts: I am a huge fan of Doug Jones.  I’m pretty sure I annoyed my mother with my constant “You know who wore that costume?  Doug Jones!” throughout the exhibit.  His costumes were definitely the highlight for me because they represented a combination of my favourite director, my favourite actor, and my love of good costumes and movie monsters.  I was a little disappointed that there was no costume for Abe in the collection (I was hoping to get some detailed reference pics for my cosplay), but I did scare the crap out of a guy at the exhibit as I charged over in his direction to have a look at some Abe concept art for the films.  Abe/Doug Jones aside, anything Hellboy related was absolutely my favourite part of “At Home with Monsters”.

I feel like I honestly can’t be objective about the exhibit because I am such a fan.  I could write for days just saying how much I liked each and every item, describing my 200+ pictures in detail and how the objects within the pictures made me feel.  And I think that no matter what I say, it won’t do this collection justice.  This is just something you have to see and experience.  There aren’t many weeks left for this exhibit, so if you haven’t been yet, and you have a chance to get to the AGO, I 100% recommend this exhibit.  It is a little creepy at times, and it is definitely not for all ages, but it is a truly wonderful and unique experience.  I wish I could go back.

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