NYC Happenings: Quay Brothers Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art

Featured Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)
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NYC Happenings: Quay Brothers Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art
Starting August 12, 2012 through January 7, 2013, The Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) is presenting a comprehensive look at the work of the renowned moving-image artists and designers the Quay Brothers. Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets features over 300 pieces including never-before-seen cross-disciplinary works and a complete film and video retrospective.

From MoMA's press release:

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 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.
This massive exhibition tells an improbable narrative of aspiring illustrator twins from Philadelphia ending up in the stop-motion animation field- all because on their way to Amsterdam, their final destination, they were sidetracked in London by getting a grant for an animation project from the British Film Institute. Lucky for us fans of their amazing stop-motion work, they basically fell into it.

Not only their work, but the exhibition devotes a large portions to their early influences- the works of naturalist painter Rudolf Freund, Polish surrealist posters, the Polish film director/animator Walerian Borowczyk and of course, the Czech master Jan Svankmajer.

Occupying MoMA's two floors, On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets' labyrinthine set up is filled with their paintings, drawings, book and record covers, puppets, scale set designs and a great number of cabinets of curiosities- seen through magnifying holes, and projections of their short film and video work, add to that the screenings of their entire filmography- shorts, two feature length live-action films, commercials, dance films, music videos, documentaries; one should prepare spending a whole day in the museum.

At the brief Q & A session with the press, the Quay Brothers appear reserved and thoughtful in their measured responses. With their long and lean figures, the twins possess a distinct other-worldliness. When asked if they ever argued while working on a project, they said they never disagree. Often finishing each others sentences, they always seem to be in perfect sync.

Bradley Rust Gray's film Jack and Diane (which will be released in the fall) features new stop-motion animation sequences by the Quays.

Prior to the exhibition's opening on Aug 12, there will be a screening of the new 35mm print of the Quay Brothers' luminous first feature (and one of my all time favorites), Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream Which People Call Human Life, on Aug 9, 7pm.

For tickets and more info, please visit MoMA website.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions of the world can be found at

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