MoMA Announces Quay Brothers Retrospective
NEW YORK, NY—The Museum of Modern Art presents Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets, the first major retrospective encompassing the full range of work by the Quay Brothers, August 12, 2012–January 7, 2013. The identical twin brothers have labored together in their London studio, Atelier Koninck, for over 30 years, creating avant-garde stop-motion puppet animation, live-action films, and graphic design that challenge easy categorization. Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets presents the full scope of their achievements: animated and live-action films (including never-before-seen early work), puppets, décor, drawings, paintings, graphic projects, calligraphic works, and installations. The exhibition is organized by Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
As filmmakers, stage designers, and illustrators in a range of genres, the Quays have penetrated many fields of visual expression for a number of different audiences, from avant-garde cinema and opera to art for publications and television advertising. Beginning with their student films in the late 1960s, they have produced over 70 moving image works, including two feature films; music videos for Peter Gabriel, Michael Penn, 16 Horsepower, and His Name Is Alive; dance films; documentaries; and signature personal works such as Street of Crocodiles (1986), the Stille Nacht series (1988–2010), The Comb [From the Museums of Sleep] (1990), Institute Benjamenta (1995), In Absentia (2000), and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (2012).
They have also designed sets and projections for opera, drama, and concert performances, including Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa (1991), Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs (Tony-nominated design, 1997), Richard Ayre’s The Cricket Recovers (2005), and recent site-specific pieces based on the work of Béla Bartók and Kafka.
Mr. Magliozzi remarks, “The Quay Brothers’ work comes from a unique personal aesthetic rooted in disguised meanings, creative accident, marginalia, and collage. Although that may seem a bit obscure at first, the Quays have actually made some wide-ranging and far-reaching excursions into both the classics and pop culture, which museumgoers will at last have a chance to view as a whole.”
Born in 1947, Stephen and Timothy Quay were raised in Norristown, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, in a rural area where they were exposed to the thriving culture of local flea markets containing the kind of dusty detritus that would become the stuff of their films. An early encounter with naturalist painter Rudolf Freund, an artist renowned for his cover illustrations for Scientific American and Life Magazine, bolstered the twins’ artistic inclinations and provided a model for the consuming work ethic they would later adopt. A selection of Freund’s influential work, including his assignments for Scientific American and his art for Time-Life, will be on view, highlighting this previously unrecognized influence on the Quay’s art.
In 1965, at the age of 18, the Quay Brothers began seven years of study to become illustrators, graduating from the Philadelphia College of Art (PCA) in 1969, and London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1972. While at PCA the twins happened upon an exhibition of Polish posters, and they were instantly attracted to the radical designs and the foreign world of European opera, drama, music, and cinema that they revealed. This was their introduction to the visual language and European subjects they would quickly adopt, and also, through the influence of vanguard European cinema by the likes of Luis Buñuel and Walerian Borowczyk, to the medium of film. During their last year at PCA, the twins won their first professional job, the design of an album cover for the American rock band Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Unfortunately their original version, featuring the group standing headless in a field, was altered by Columbia Records with the hasty re-addition of the band members’ heads—both versions of the cover are on view in the exhibition.