|Stephen and Timothy Quay, photographed by Jill Krementz on August 7, 2012 at MoMA.
"Sometimes it shocks us how few references people have to the literature and music that has driven us .... It makes us feel elitist by default, which is not what we intend. We would rather our films were treated like department stores — admittedly manic department stores — in which one can take a lift to whatever level one wants."
— The Quay Brothers, 1986
|Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-reading Puppets
August 12, 2012 - January 7, 2013
The Quay Brothers have been vanguard filmmakers for over thirty years, working in a mix of collage, stop motion puppet animation, live action, and special effects. While their work has been influenced by cinematic and graphic traditions, it is uniquely their own.
In 1979, the brothers commenced their work in experimental filmmaking with the opening of their London studio, Atelier Koninck. It is for their idiosyncratic films they are best known — 70 of them — including documentaries, commercials, music videos, dance films, and two feature films. Street of Crocodiles (1986) is one of their signature pieces.
Now they have their first major U.S. retrospective, curated by MoMA's Associate Curator of Film Ron Magliozzi. Mr. Magliozzi also curated MoMA's blockbuster Tim Burton show in 2009. This exhibition, spread out over three floors, includes puppets, stage sets, calligraphy, peephole installations, posters, book jackets, record album covers, photographs, collages, and personal ephemera. Within the exhibit there are numerous alcoves where one can see their various films. There is also a full-scale retrospective of all their film and video works scheduled over the next six months in the Titus Theaters.
|Part I of the exhibition is on the second floor.|
|Entrance to the galleries on the second floor. Paul Jackson, MoMA's press officer, was on hand to welcome us to the press preview.|
|As you enter the first gallery there is a large black and white mural, an enlarged photograph taken in 1948 of the twins with their mother in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where they lived until 1968.
Norristown is a borough six miles northwest of Philadelphia on the Schuylkill River that had been a hub for manufacturing in the nineteenth century, producing goods ranging from tacks, wire, milling machines, and screws to hosiery, underwear, and shirts.
The twins' father was a first-class machinist, and their mother—to whom they bear an uncanny physical resemblance—was a homemaker with a talent for figure skating. In addition to their athletic skills, the twins' facility for drawing was detected early and encouraged; stark landscapes dotted with trees, a motif in much of their work, first appeared in their teenage drawings.
It was in this rural setting that they encountered thriving local flea markets, which were stocked with the kind of dusty, decaying objects, redolent with texture and calling out to be touched, that would later populate their stop-motion films.
|Untitled snowscape (Timothy)
c. 1955; Oil on canvas board
| Untitled snowscape (Stephen)
c. 1955; Oil on canvas board
for the Zoltán Várkonyi (1912-1979) film Mérenylet (Hungary, 1960)
For a Warsaw dramatization based on the Franz Kafka (1883-1924) novel The Castle (1926)
The Quay Brothers met the illustrator and naturalist Rudolf Freund through their high school art teacher in the late 1960s, and they began regular visits to his farm and studio in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.
Freund allowed them to observe him at his easel and to study what they have described as "the kingdom of animals and insects" in his library. Renowned for his covers for Scientific American magazine and his art for Time Life publications, Freund impressed the twins with the detail and immediacy of his work, while he often voiced his displeasure at the loss of vividness it suffered in its published form.
Ecological Chemistry, February 1969
For Scientific American magazine, February, 1969
The twins have described watching Freund create the February 1969 Scientific American cover "Ecological Chemistry" as "one of those crucial revelatory moments when something painted was so powerfully tactile."
Their time with Freund was the source of many of the brothers' aesthetic principles, and he provided a model for their consuming work ethic.
|Record cover design for Blood, Sweat & Tears, by Blood, Sweat & Tears (Columbia Records, New York) 1968
The Quays' first professional job, in their last year at the Philadelphia College of Art, was a commission from Columbia Records to create an album cover for American rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears. Designed under the influence of the Polish avant-garde, their collage of headless musicians based on a studio press photo was edited by the label, which simply reapplied the severed heads for the album's release.
|Blood, Sweat & Tears recollage 2012 collage.
Here the Quay Brothers have recreated their original design.
|Gilbert Gayton still has his Blood, Sweat & Tears original record albums. "I bought them back in the '60s." Mr. Gayton is a retired head hunter.||Raj Roy, Chief Curator of Film. The 39-year-old Mr. Roy started his professional life selling tickets at the Guggenheim Museum.|
|The Quay Brothers
Bicycle Course for Aspiring Amputees
Pencil and oil paint on paper
|The Quay Brothers
The Gradually Tightening Avenue of Trees
|Peter Reed, MoMA's Senior Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs. Mr. Reed's dapper suit is by the Italian designer, Ermenegildo Zegna.||Susan Morris, an old friend of the Quays, who curates art for the Ford Foundation.|
|The Clockwork Testament; or, Enderby's End
Alfred Knopf, New York, Book
After graduating from the Royal College of Art, London, the Quay Brothers returned to the United States to pursue a career in commercial art and design.
Over the next six years, in Philadelphia and later in Amsterdam, work was sporadic: filler for the review sections of the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer; book covers for suspense and science-fiction novels; Gothic illustrations for publisher Hugh Hefner's men's magazines.
They also did a series of drawings for the American edition of the novel The Clockwork Testament; or, Enderby's End, by Anthony Burgess.
|I, too, photographed Anthony Burgess in the early 1970s. Mr. Burgess was teaching at Columbia in 1971.|
|They also designed numerous book jackets for Italo Calvino.|
|Calvino book jackets.|
|I also worked with Italo Calvino but for the back jackets, unlike the Quays who illustrated various covers. The Castle of Crossed Destinies, was published in 1976 by the legendary Helen Wolff at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Another one of my photos was used the following year on the jacket of The Castle of Crossed Destinies — this one without his signature black eyeglasses.
It's eerie. Last week I wrote about Gore Vidal, who was a close friend of Calvino's. This weekend I read the galleys of a forthcoming bio by Deirdre Bair about the artist Saul Steinberg and Steinberg, too, was a huge admirer and friend of this great author. This, in addition to the Quay's obvious affinity with the Italian writer.
|This is the photograph the publisher might have used since the conceit of the book was that its author (Calvino) was using tarot cards to unfold the stories of high adventure.|
|View of gallery holding early work and ephemera by the Quays.|
|Art writer Larry Qualls and his partner, film blogger Daryl Chin, standing in front of one of the many screening alcoves on the second floor.|
"The Brothers Quay have transformed The Museum of Modern Art into a Victorian labyrinth filled with their distinctive graphics and animated works; film buffs like me will spend hours in the video rooms.
"Though some of the drawings and dioramas have quirky sexual details, in keeping with their surreal sensibilities, this is a show which should find enthusiastic crowds."
|Girl puppet from Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?
Plastic, cloth, wood, and leather
|Nocturna Artificialia puppet
Fabric, metal, ceramic
|Rabbit puppet from Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?
Stuffing, cloth, metal, fur
|Reverso of rabbit.|
|Closeup of King puppet and Nobleman puppet.||Closeup of Duenna puppet.|
|Mayakovsky puppet, Igor, The Paris Years Chez Pleyel, 1982
Paper, wood, metal
Mayakovsky, a hero in our household, was among the foremost representatives of early-20th century Russian Futurism.
|When my husband Kurt Vonnegut and I visited Moscow in October, 1974, I photographed him with Rita Rait (his Russian translator) under this great photograph of the Soviet poet and playwright.|
|Anamorphosis, a perspective technique used in the visual arts, creates a distorted-looking image that can only be deciphered when viewed from a specific vantage point. If you stand in just the right place in this gallery, you can read the Quay Brothers' anamorphic signature on the wall.
Their documentary on the subject, De Artificiali Perspectiva, or Anamorphosis (1991), is on view in Part II of the exhibition, alongside a display of the artists' cinema decors. The perception and interpretation of their work by others is a motivating interest for the Quay Brothers, and one of the pleasures for viewers of their graphic design and films is the active role the spectator plays in the process of determining meaning.
What this all means: when viewing this wall position yourself next to either one of the two red ovals.
|I am standing by the red oval on the right so I guess this is how it should look to the viewer.|
|Tom Brook from the BBC interviewing exhibition curator, Ron Magliozzi.|
|The box is a décor. It is from The Calligrapher short film. Peter Reed takes a peek.|
|Looking through the portal, this is what you see.|
|Anny Aviram and Peter Reed.||Anny Aviram is a painting conservator at MoMA, where she has worked for 40 years.|
|Stille Nacht IV: Can't Go Wrong Without You
Collage with ink
|Matchbook collages (Old Master and Old Woman) and collages on audiocassette tapes, c. 1976-80
(For a sense of scale, that's me reflected in background).
|Quay brothers studio correspondence, (for Ein Brudermord), Sept. 10, 1980||Self-Portrait as Mennonites, 1995
|A complete retrospective of the Quay Brothers' cinema decors, known as Dormitorium, continues in Part II of the exhibition, accessible on the ground floor of the Museum.|
|Please Sniff: Powdered Deer Ejaculate, Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, décor, 1995
Wood, glass, coarse salt, antlers
|In the lobbies outside the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, there are many visual treats of set designs for the films. If you are a fan of the Quays, don't miss these.|
|Set design for This Unnamable Little Broom, Little Songs of the Chief Officer of Hunar Louse,
or This Unnameable Little Broom, being a Largely Disguised Reduction of the
Epic of Gilgamesh, 1985
|"Tailor's Shop," set design for Street of Crocodiles, 1986.|
|"Grand Box," Set Design for Street of Crocodiles, 1986
This reconfiguration of the set from the Quay Brothers' 1986 film Street of Crocodiles contains its lead puppet, the Stalker, an everyman explorer of a forgotten cityscape. He has been thought by viewers to resemble the twins themselves, the Polish writer Bruno Schulz, American artist Joseph Cornell, and characters from the German Expressionist film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), directed by Robert Wiene, and Luis Buñuel's Surrealist film comedy L'Age d'or (The Golden Age, 1930).
|Welcome remarks by Ron Magliozzi.|
|Conversation among Peter Reed, Ron Magliozzi, and the Quay Brothers, Stephen and Timothy.|
|Stephen and Timothy Quay.|
|Clips from Quay Brothers Murphy's Irish Stout "Warriors" commercial (1996).|
|Timothy Quay is on the left, Stephen Quay in the middle, curator Ron Magliozzi on the right.|
|Large Mural: A self-portrait of The Quay Brothers with the set of Street of Crocodiles, c. 1990.|
|Later that evening ...|
|Chairman of MoMA's board of trustees, Jerry Speyer, who hosted the evening.||Lauren Driscoll and Nicholas Ruiz helped plan the evening. They're both part of MoMA's Special Programming and Events team.|
|John McPherson has been working at MoMA for 21 years and painting for 61. Mr. McPherson thinks this show will be as popular as the Tim Burton retrospective was a few years ago.||Ron Magliozzi, MoMA's Associate Curator, Department of Film.|
|Susan Morris, "a long-standing friend of the Quay Brothers," with Stephen Quay in first gallery on the second floor. Filmmaker David Leitner is Morris's boyfriend.||Jeane Wampler with her sons when they were babies in Norristown, Pennsylvania.|
|The traveling pizza squares.
Several pairs of waiters paraded around the garden bearing copper structures with suspended individual pizza galettes on free-swinging hooks. The evening was catered by Pinch Food Design and it was the most creative catering I've ever seen. TJ Girard, a 31-year-old former stage designer, and her business partner and co-owner, Bob Siegel, a chef with thirty years experience, are the wizards behind the culinary theatrics.
Other tasty tidbits included dangling Bavarian pretzels (a la the pizza squares with the waitstaff carrying small squeeze bottles of spicy mustard), fava beans and mint in zucchini tartlets, grapes stuffed with chicken tarragon salad, spicy tuna on black rice with sisho, chicks (chicken sausage and apple mustard) in a blanket, and lobster salad on miniature warm buttered rolls. The steak frites are too hard to describe, but easy to love.
The Quays had asked MoMA to forgo a fancy luncheon in their honor and to pull out all the stops for the evening reception.
DJ music was supplied by the Quay Brothers. They put together a playlist beforehand and it was played throughout the evening on an iPod.
| Mother of the Quay twins Jeane Wampler, 85, with another son Andrew Quay, five years younger than his twin brothers. Andrew is with QVC.
Because there is a photograph of her skating in the exhibition, I asked her if she had brought along her skates.
"I gave up skating when I was three months pregnant with the twins. This time I'm going to Rockefeller Center, but I'm not taking my skates."
Mrs. Wampler reminisced about those days before the twins were born saying that "back then we all used to wear leg make up."
|Kathy Quay, wife of Andrew, hence the twins' sister-in-law.||Ken Swezey is an intellectual property rights lawyer — my kind of guy.|
|Laura Lindgren is a publisher and book designer for the Mütter Museum.||Susan Bernofsky translated Robert Walser, an author the Quay Brothers love. The Swiss author (1878–1956) is, in fact, one of the literary modernists, along with Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz, to whom the Quay Brothers have turned most frequently.|
|Kate Wolf and Tim Nelson. Ms. Wolf is a jewelry designer and her husband, Tim Nelson, composed the music for the Quay Brothers film, Through the Weeping Glass.
When this film was shown at the Wexner Center for the Arts it was described this way:
"Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum) is a hybrid documentary inspired by the unique collection of books, instruments, and medical oddities at Philadelphia's Mütter Museum.
"This mini-masterpiece represents an ideal marriage of the Quay Brothers' unique, often darkly grotesque, cinematic vision and the museum's vast collection of medical anomalies.
"Through the Weeping Glass is the first film by the Quay Brothers to be made in the United States. Narrated by Derek Jacobi, with music by Tim Nelson. (31 mins., 35mm)."
|"I half expected to find them a pair of wizened gnomes with rusty screws, butterfly dust, and cobwebs dangling from their hair. Nothing so exorbitant – only two disarmingly friendly, whirling personas of elegantly rumpled charisma, who just happen to have turned their accidental birthright as identical twins into one of art's most ingenious and visionary collaborations.
"The conversation took place amidst New York's blizzard of '96, as though the environment were duplicating the atmospheric wonder that the brothers' films so effortlessly provoke."
|Full length photo of Ms. Goodeve.||"The T-shirt was made by the Coolidge Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2009 for the 6th Annual Coolidge Award, which the Quays received that year. I introduced them at the awards ceremony.
"If anybody is interested ... the tattoo is by artist Matthew Barney."
|Heide Hatry with her boyfriend, John Wronoski, a rare book dealer and owner of Lame Duck Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts.|
| Rudolf Freund stands in front of a photograph of his father. Known as Rudy, Mr. Freund lives in Boca Raton where he is the production manager of an electronics company.
Freund translates to 'friend' in English.
|This is a photo in the exhibit of Rudolf Freund with his wife Susan and their daughter Sandy. The dachshunds are Trudy and Lulu. Sandy is holding George, the goose.
Sandy was evidently at MoMA for the opening night party, but alas I did not meet her.
|Rudy Freund and his wife Tatiana, who graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Master of Science degree. "I have defended my thesis on the astrophysics topic about the creation of heavy elements, such as gold, platinum, uranium, and much more, during the explosion of supernova stars."||Rudy Freund photographed from a different angle.|
For Life magazine, "The Life of the Bee",
August 11, 1952
Acrylic on paper
Army Ants -- Bivouac Web, 1960
For "The Wonders of Life on Earth," Time Inc.
Acrylic on board
For Scientific American Magazine, May 1960
Home Life of the Swift
For Scientific American Magazine, July 1954
Acrylic and pencil on board
|Jennifer Freund Gasper and her father Peter Freund. Mr. Freund is the son of Rudolf Freund,
the brother of Rudy.
|Logan Gasper is 8 months old. He's the great grandson of Rudolf Freund.
Amazing! Three generations of Freunds were on hand to celebrate the opening and pay homage to the man who most influenced the Quay Brothers when they started out.
|Timothy Quay with Alan Singer. Professor Singer, who is affiliated with Temple University, teaches an annual summer graduate seminar in aesthetics in the center of Rome, often attended by the Quays.|
|Timothy Quay with Joslyn Barnes. Ms. Barnes was an associate producer of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and executive producer of the forthcoming The House I Live In.
A screenwriter and producing partner of actor/producer Danny Glover, Barnes is currently working on a film about the arms trade with Johan Grimonprez, and another about the climate crisis with Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein. Her most recent production was The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.
Those of you familiar with the work of Djuna Barnes will be interested to learn that Joslyn Barnes is the niece of the modernist writer and illustrator who was one of the key figures in the Bohemian Paris of the 1920s and '30s.
|Joslyn Barnes and Peter Reed.|
|L. Somi Roy is the Executive Producer of the Gold Cast International Film Festival, which will have its second season this October in Great Neck, New York. Mr. Roy has curated film and media programs at MoMA, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum, Asia Society, and many other venues.||Raj Roy and L. Somi Roy, who are not related. Raj Roy is the museum's Chief Curator of Film.|
|Lucas Gonzalez is an Audio Visual Technician for MoMA.||Mr. Gonzalez had this tattoo copied from a locust found in MoMA's garden.|
|His arms are a visual reflection of the world around him.|
|While I was photographing the locust, Lucas said, "you should see my friend's back." So I said to his friend, "well let's see it!"
And this is what I saw when Drew Bushong rolled up his T-shirt. Mr. Bushong is a bartender at a beer bar in Greenwich Village: 124 Old Rabbit Club.
|The tattoo is of a rendering of the Tibetan Diety, Palden Lamo. Palden Lamo (or Shri Devi or Lhamo) is one of the most popular protector deities of Tibet.
I am learning so much about art these days (under the guise of having cute young bartenders peel off their shirts).
|Meg Blackburn, Director of Media Relations at Fitz & Co. Ms. Blackburn used to be a press officer at MoMA.||MoMA press officers Brien McDaniel and Margaret Doyle. And no that is not a typo. It's Brien with an "e." You think this job of mine is easy?|
|Alden Warner, a banker, and Peter Reed are long time partners.|
|Jerry Speyer, Alden Warner, and Peter Reed.|
|Kamila Kuc and her boyfriend, Timothy Quay.|
|Lydia Hunn and Kathy Martin were undergraduates with the Quays for four years at the Philadelphia College of Art. They all graduated in 1968. "I have to tell you," said Ms. Martin, "they were beautiful models when they had to pose in art class."|
|Julie Taymor and Timothy Quay, both film-makers, both master puppeteers. The Quays did the animation sequence for Taymor's 2002 feature-film biography of Frida Kahlo.|
|Music producer/composer Elliot Goldenthal, Julie Taymor, and Timothy Quay. Taymor shares a loft with Goldenthal, who is her boyfriend and frequent collaborator.|
|Timothy Quay with Susan Delson, who edited the exhibition catalogue. Sadly, the fonts often make it hard to read but you will be rewarded if you get out your magnifying glass.||Edward Waisnis, the Quay's American troubleshooter who worked closely with MoMA on the exhibition. Mr. Waisnis was the producer of the QQ's film on the Mütter Museum.|
|Exhibition catalogue with essays by Edwin Carels and Ron Magliozzi.|
|Darian Brenner and Africanus Okokon, both 22, are friends from the Rhode Island School of Design. Ms. Brenner graduated from RISD in May and does live action film. Mr. Okonon, an animator, is still a student at the school.||Security Guards Gregory Pittman (8 years at MoMA) and Paul Johnson (31 years and counting).|
|Wall projection in the lobby, a digital transfer from the 1986 film, Street of Crocodiles.|
|Hard to believe, but when I got in the cab on the way home, who should appear on the TV screen? None other than Rachel Roy! It's the first time I haven't pushed the off button.|
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved. Contact Jill Krementz here.