institution: Minneapolis Institute of Art
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
As America’s museum landscape fights for relevance with younger generations, the Minneapolis Institute of Art has been thriving under director Kaywin Feldman’s bold leadership. With a willingness to experiment with untraditional exhibition experiences, she came upon a New Yorker profile about filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s and his creative home-base called “Bleak House”. A modern-day cabinet of curiosities, the taste-making director uses this sanctuary of treasures to fuel his fairy tales. Believing the public would be similarly inspired by this enchanting collection of creatures, Kaywin began to organize what would become “At Home with Monsters”.
Six years later, the special exhibition was coming to Minneapolis and a declaration of its arrival was needed. Wanting to create a title treatment for the exhibit’s 300 square foot lobby, Kaywin entrusted staff designer Eric Helmin to make an entrance that lived up to del Toro’s cinematic pedigree. Initially designing around the themes that bookend the show, “Childhood and Innocence” and “Death and the Afterlife”, Eric took the framing of a gothic cathedral and reimagined it in the Victorian style of Del Toro’s home. Desiring more than just architecture, Eric then dove into one of del Toro’s biggest inspirations, author H.P. Lovecraft.
The father of strange fiction, Lovecraft’s otherworldly creatures always lurk just beneath the surface of reality. Eric imagined he could infuse the walls with this same mysterious sentience by strategically cutting oculi into a facade. Needing to doctor a convincing illusion, Eric engineered his own multimedia Frankenstein. Layering crocodile eyelids over the veins of Martian craters, no detail was spared as he animated eyes that looked back at you. With the show about to open, a network of biomorphic video was nested into a matrix of printed panels, and something hauntingly beautiful came alive.
When the museum unveiled the exhibition, the eyes became an instant sensation. Social media metrics of the entrance ballooned into the millions as fans flooded their networks with praise and hashtags. Not only were monster fans thrilled, every generation was engaged with the evocative display, from school groups waving goodbye to senior citizens capturing selfies with their loved ones.
Ultimately, the show’s radical engagement across generations was proof of del Toro’s uniquely inclusive message: “When I was a kid, monsters made me feel that I could fit somewhere, even if it was… an imaginary place where the grotesque and the abnormal were celebrated and accepted.” For three magical months, this imaginary place became real at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. As a result of this success, the Institute witnessed the highest rate of new membership growth in the history of the museum.