The multitalented Stephen and Timothy Quay — known to fans as the Brothers Quay — have made their mark with dark, brooding animated films that are regularly placed on the top 10 lists of favorites by savvy filmmakers, critics, and animators. Now, the Museum of Modern Art has announced that this August it will host a retrospective of work by the duo, curated by Ron Magliozzi, who also co-organized the institution’s door-busting tribute to pop-Goth filmmaker Tim Burton, a figure whose whimsical but dark sensibility the Brothers Quay somewhat share.
The show, which is titled "Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets," seems to develop a relationship between the Brothers and the Institution: Last year, the institution was the venue for the debut of the Brothers’ “Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting.”
While the Quays are a cinophile’s favorite, the show promises the American viewing public a particularly European sensibility: Though born in eastern Pennsylvania, the two have lived and worked in London since graduating from the Royal College of Art in the early 1970s, and their main influences go even further east, to Franz Kafka, the Franco-Russian puppeteer Wladyslaw Starewicz, the Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, and the surreal, cryptic work by Polish animators Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica.
The MoMA show will presumably tell the story of how the Brothers Quays’ distinctive filmic sensibility evolved from their roots in avant-garde graphic design and art. The original version of Anthony Burgess's novel "The Clockwork Testament Or Enderby's End" featured their drawings at the beginning of each chapter, and they also had an early job doing the cover art for "Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer," a book on the avant-garde German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
However, they are best-loved for their cult status achieved by their more than 30 short films and two feature-length films ("Institute Benjamenta," "The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes"), as well as set designs and projections for arty performances of Tchaikovsky, Ionesco, Prokofiev, and Molière, and music videos for the likes of Peter Gabriel. In addition to screening these classics, expect to include drawings, calligraphy, and small sculptures by the Brothers Quay that have never been exhibited in public before.