Friday, August 10, 2012

Quay Brothers Retrospective in New York City! "On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets," Museum of Modern Art, NYC

I just had the honor to view the beautifully installed and revelatory Quay Brothers retrospective "On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I have long been a fan of the Quay's work, and still, this exhibition had much to astonish, delight and surprise, situating the Quay's work within the larger context of an avant-garde tradition, and revealing the Quay's oeuvre to be much broader and richer than expected. Surprises and highlights included pen and ink drawings evoking a slightly less whimsical Edward Gorey, a mini-exhibition of the of the kind of Polish theater posters from the 1960s which inspired much of their work, and paintings by a scientific illustrator who mentored them in high school. Also of special interest, at least to me, was a collection of 8 mm Eastern European travel films which The Quay's collected as inspiration for their work; these grainy and blurred snatches of dark and forgotten streets, shop windows with wax mannequin heads, and church interior possess much of the atmosphere, mystery, and powerful detail evident the Quay's best works; they serve as both an excellent introduction to the exhibition and an illuminating key to their film work.

If you are able to visit the exhibition--which I very highly recommend!--make very sure not to miss the bottom floor portion of the exhibit, where you will find a collection of The Quay Brother's dioramic film decors installed in what feels like a furtive peepshow, a sort of perverse and surrealistic Musée Mécanique. Here you can immerse yourself in the tiny and exquisite sets from such films as Street of Crocodiles; Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme; The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; and The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer; their wealth of detail rewards a careful and slow eye. Also, make sure to set some time aside to watch the films, many of which play in mini-theatres set up within the exhibition; the ballet piece The Sandman was an especial revelation to this viewer; dance and the Quays go surprisingly well together.

As we see in this exhibition, the through line of The Quay's long and storied careers--which has spanned drawing, painting, film, animation, theater and graphic design, and dioramic "film decors"-- is a sense of mysterious and compelling atmosphere created by an exacting and exquisite attention to detail: the craquelure of antique objects, a perfectly fractured piece of glass, the patina of caked on dirt, the hand-rendered imperfection of calligraphic script, the artful use of shadow, and, above all, a wonderful wit and humor that counterbalances the unapologetic inscrutability of the work. Do not miss this exhibition! You will never look at the work of the Quay Brothers the same way again. In a good way!

The exhibition will be on view at New York Museum of Modern Art from August 12–January 7.You can find out about the exhibition here. Also, the museum will be hosting a series of screenings of Quay Brothers films running the duration of the exhibition; you can find out more about that here.

All above images were taken in the exhibition.

1 comment:

SusanW said...

We did Member Previews on Saturday and this is indeed a strange and wonderful exhibit...perfect for Morbid Anatomy fans. The stark, staring Victorian doll heads and the semi-creature under the bed are marvelous. I loved the "Three Oranges" and "From the House of the Dead" clips. I hope many have a chance to view this marvelous show.