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EYE announces The Quay Brothers Universum

EYE museum presents The Quay Brothers Universum an exhibition on view December 15, 2013–March 9, 2014.

Quay Brothers, Street of Crocodiles. BFI National Archive (UK).
Quay Brothers, Street of Crocodiles. BFI National Archive (UK).
These American identical twins have built up an enigmatic and dark body of work that includes stop-motion animation, drawings, and performing arts productions. This exhibition shows their films amidst many of their sources of inspiration, including artefacts from scientific collections, curiosity cabinets, and early twentieth-century drawings by psychiatric patients.

Although born and raised in rural Pennsylvania in the United States, the Quay Brothers have amassed a body of work that is manifestly rooted in the culture and civilization of ‘old’ Europe, that is, the Europe of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. Since 1979 they have been compiling a darkly enigmatic oeuvre of animation films, drawings and set designs for opera and ballet. The Quays are masters at bringing to life dead materials, for them the very essence of animation film-making. Like true alchemists, they breathe life into all sorts of used and discarded objects with which they compose their décors and figures. Often their films are based on, or inspired by, literary texts by such writers as Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz and Robert Walser. Just as often they take as their starting point a musical composition and then overlay it with stories or narrative elements taken from a wide range of sources.

Of great importance to the Quay Brothers are a number of—mostly Eastern European—animation filmmakers like Walerian Borowczyk (1923–2006), Jan Lenica (1928–2001) and Ladislav Starewicz (1892–1965). In their own way each of them introduced the brothers to the fascinating world of animation film. The Quays have also developed an extra sense for discovering and uncovering private obsessions and usual, often extraordinary collections. For example, they drew inspiration from the character of Emma Hauck, a woman confined to a psychiatric hospital at a young age, where she penned scores of illegible love letters to her husband. These letters now form part of the Prinzhorn Collection of ‘artworks’ by psychiatric patients amassed by psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn (1886–1933) in the early twentieth century. The Quay Brothers are also drawn to and influenced by eighteenth- and especially nineteenth-century scientific collections of the extraordinary, the aberrant and the bizarre.

The exhibition includes many of their most important films as well as the wonderful décors they construct for those films. Called Dormitorium, these small installations or display boxes are assembled from all sorts of found, used and aged objects. The exhibition also features the Quays’ Black Drawings, dark pencil drawings that reveal their attraction to the darker side of existence. Accompanying all of this material are works by important protagonists for the Quays: animation films by Walerian Borowczyk, Jan Lenica, Ladislav Starewicz, Alexander Alexeieff and Jan Švankmajer; documents of Bruno Schulz and Robert Walser; artefacts from the unique collection of Sir Henry Wellcome; drawings from the Prinzhorn Collection; and relics from old Wunderkammer collections that include strange anatomical wax models of human body parts, écorchés and phrenological objects.

For this exhibit, EYE has worked together with various museums and collections, including the Sir Henry Wellcome Trust in London, the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg, the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature in Warsaw, the Robert Walser Center in Bern, the Vrolik Collectie in Amsterdam, Het Dolhuys in Haarlem and Museum Boerhaave in Leiden. The exhibit also draws from the rich collection of Eastern European posters in EYE’s film collection.

Accompanying film program and publication
The Quay Brothers’ Universum is accompanied by the film program Footnotes, with films by the Quay Brothers showing every Friday, along with work by the artists, filmmakers and writers who inspired them and stop-motion films from Russia and Eastern Europe. All of which is framed by lectures, performances and music. The exhibition is also accompanied by the comprehensive publication The Quay Brothers’ Universum, published by EYE and distributed by nai010 publishers.

The exhibition has been curated by Jaap Guldemond.

EYE, the new film museum in Amsterdam
IJpromenade 1
1031 KT Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Hours: Daily 11–18h, Fridays 11–21h