Thursday, August 16, 2012

Brothers Quay Obliquely Viewed

I was able to catch the Quay Brothers exhibition this past Friday at MoMA just prior to its opening to the public and found it an enchanting departure from the spectacle that has been overtaking the art world of late. The Quay twins have been busy making their idiosyncratic films since the late 1970's with hardly a nod to the rest of the world for that matter.  I found myself fascinated by the world they portray in their films that seem to hearken back to surrealist works.

 The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer

Whether they portray dreamy interiors or mysterious landscapes, they avoid clear narrative yet have an interior logic that defies the viewer to deny the storytelling aspect inherent each piece. The brothers make use of elaborate stage sets, most are no larger than a table top to produce their stop motion fantasies mixing puppets, collage and live actors on occasion.

I was struck by the catalog statement concerning their early history. Born in Central Pennsylvania in 1947, the brothers seem totally without artifice in describing their lives as the typically American 1950's obediently bland upbringing. They certainly describe their awareness of an art (or art world) as minimal until arriving at art college.

The lighting, choreography, pacing and compact camera space make the spaces seem alive with magic.  Trained as calligraphers this type of flowing movement is still very important to the flowing movements of these dreamy films.  No pop flash of a Tim Burton extravaganza but a well crafted exhibit with rarely seen early works on paper.
The short film Anamorphosis which is included in  a DVD set available at the museum is instructive on how to approach the work of Brothers Quay. Anamorphosis, a technique of perspective that produces a distorted image unless viewed from a certain angle, describes well how one responds to the Quay's films.  They have a liminal quality that makes one feel as if there are answers just out of sight.

At MoMA in NYC-

Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets  

(August 12,2012 - January 7, 2013)