Creative activity of Quay Brothers retrospective in New York

Shot from the movie Street Of Crocodiles
Shot from the movie "Street Of Crocodiles"
Photogram of Street of Crocodiles
Photogram of "Street of Crocodiles"
Shot from the movie Street Of Crocodiles
Shot from the movie "Street Of Crocodiles"
Shot from the movie Mask
source: producer
Shot from the movie "Mask"

From August 12th till January 7th 2013 in MoMa gallery in New York hosts an exhibition dedicated to the creative activity of the Quay Brothers, whose film ‘Maska’ we will have a chance to see during this year’s edition of PLAY POLAND festival.


The exposition entitled ‘Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets’ was organised by Ron Magliozzi. It is the first exhibition under the belt of the brothers showing the unreleased sketches, collages and early animations as well as videos illustrating opera and theatre decorations created by the artists. The exhibition is accompanied by the Quay Brothers’ film retrospective consisting of short films, among others, ‘The Street of Crocodiles’ by Bruno Schulz, ‘Maska’ based on Stanisław Lem’s novel and produced in Poland ‘Inventorium of Traces’ as well as full length films: ‘Institute Benjamenta’ with Lech Jankowski’s score and ‘Piano Tuner of Earthquakes’

The Quay Brothers come from Philadelphia where they have studied illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art. In 1969-1972 they studied at the London Royal College of Art. The first animations of the twin brothers were made in the 60s’ and 70s’ and were very simple. Only in the 80s’ the inimitable style of Quay Brothers has emerged with its most prominent example and the best-known piece ‘The Street of Crocodiles’ (1986), the adaptation of Bruno Schulz’s novel. The animation was acclaimed by Terry Gillaim as one of the ten best animations of all times. The artists do not restrain themselves to animations, they also designed sets and projections for operas (among others to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Mazzepa’ and Ionesco’s ‘The Chairs’) as well as created clips, dance films, documentaries and feature films. In 2002 they shot a minute sequence of Frida Kahlo’s dream for the film ‘Frida’ by Julie Taymor.

The style of Quary Brothers is often referred to as surrealistic, dark, oniric, full of baroque fascination with ugliness and turpism. It represents the so called ‘degraded reality’ meaning deformed, cheap, dirty and dysfunctional, plagued with decay. At the same time it is not a world lacking humour and contrary affirmation of life. The aesthetics of Quay brothers pieces combines the expressionism of Edward Munch’s pictures with deformed painting of Francis Bacon, elements of surrealism and silent cinema aesthetics. The Central Europe, including Polish culture, has played quite a big part in the brothers’ education. The artists draw from the works of Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, Igor Strawiński, Tadeusz Kantor, Leoš Janáček. The dolls in the Quay Brothers pictures are visualised versions of Schulzian mannequins but also characters from Kantor’s plays. Moreover, as early as in 1965, during the studies on Philadelphia College of Art, Stephen and Timothy became fascinated with the Polish School of Posters. The works of Jan Lenica, Roman Cieślewicz and Franciszek Starowieyski have inspired them with the surrealism, symbolism and power of expression.

We have discovered Europe thanks to Franz Kafka (as Quay Brothers say) later – thanks to Bruno Schulz, whose prose has become our greatest inspiration. Europe, especially Central, is a deep secret. You have cities which still protect this secret today. In America it’s different – everything is planned and exactly stipulated, the cities are predictable. While in Prague or Cracow you can lose yourself and feel the atmosphere. It is an organic experience, glimpse of metaphysics (…) we have been brought up with the Polish cinema. One of the great discoveries we’ve made were for example the works of Walerian Borowczyk. Our first Central Europe film we saw was the Elevator by Jerzy Kucia.

Quays have visited Poland on numerous occasions, last time in July 2010 during the 10th New Horizons International Film Festival in Wrocław where the retrospective of their films took place. In 2011 they made ‘Maska’ with the Polish animated films company SE-MA-FOR, which we will have a chance to see from September during our PLAY POLAND Festival. We hope to see you there.

Translated by


author: Joanna Zielińska
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