Of monsters and man caves: The inspiration behind Mia’s Guillermo del Toro show

I always read the New Yorker on the elliptical torture machine at the gym, mostly to avoid the repugnant boredom of exercise. But I also find that the effect of the endorphins, combined with the great writing in the New Yorker, fires up ideas. I have lots of bad ideas (I can tell they are bad because my colleagues never respond to the emails I send after a workout) and a few good ones.

One of my better ideas came from reading a long profile in the New Yorker of the film director Guillermo del Toro. Titled “Show the Monster,” it was written by Daniel Zalewski, who describes del Toro as “less like a disciple of Hitchcock than of Hieronymus Bosch.” My heart beats for Bosch, and suddenly it was pounding.

Some of the many Frankenstein-related objects in del Toro's Bleak House.

Some of the many Frankenstein-related objects in del Toro’s Bleak House.

Then I read Zalewski’s description of Bleak House, a mock-Tudor mansion in a suburb of Los Angeles. Del Toro calls it his “man cave”—he lives in another house, a few minutes away, with his wife and children—but really it is his creative home. It is where he goes to write and work among a massive collection of objects that inspire him. He has curated every room, arranging artwork, figures, movie props, kitsch, and books according to different themes.

My heart was racing after reading this, and not just because I’d increased the incline. I had long enjoyed del Toro’s movies, but I hadn’t known anything about him—or his collecting madness. I was struck by how knowledgeable he is about the art, history, film, and literature of diverse cultures across time, and the luminous connections he makes between them. It’s clear that the breadth of human creativity fuels his creativity. The article convinced me that we needed to organize a Guillermo del Toro exhibition at Mia.

Del Toro, in black, giving museum officials a tour of Bleak House.

Del Toro, in black, giving museum officials a tour of Bleak House.

That was back in 2011. It took us six years to pull off this show, which asks—and attempts to answer—an intriguing question: “Where does creativity come from?” For del Toro, it is not an occasional divine ray of inspiration, but rather a steady storm of verbal and visual imagery. He told Zalewski, “that’s why I collect images. This stuff feeds you back.”

We are grateful to del Toro for sharing some of this “stuff,” a marvelous bit of Bleak House, with Minnesota.

Top image: A view inside Guillermo del Toro’s Bleak House. Inset photos courtesy of the author.