art / culture / film

The Macabre Trinity of Wonderful Worlds: Švankmajer, the Chapman Brothers and the Brothers Quay

Over the last dark and ominous winter months, I’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to visit three equally dark, ominous, but also enchanting exhibitions.
In November I went to Brighton to see the fantastic show The Inner Life of Objects celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jan Švankmajer’s film-making career. Then in December I saw the dark, yet humorous Jake and Dinos Chapman show Come and See inhabited by death, the Ku Klux Klan, dinosaurs and dead Ronald McDonalds. Finally, for the last part of this Macabre Trinity I flew back to the Netherlands to see the massive show The Quay Brothers’ Universum.
It was interesting to see these three shows within such a short period of time and recognise themes shared between different artists, all connecting childlike experiences to nightmarish worlds. And how unusual it was to see shows by two sets of brothers. But most of all I selfishly, for my blog, appreciated that all three venues allowed visitors to take photos. I took hundreds of photos of all shows of which a small selection appear in this blog post. Please visit my Flickr page to see more.

Jan Švankmajer – The Inner Life of Objects

University of Brighton (11th Oct 2013 – 2nd Dec 2013)
This Czech filmmaker (born 1934) is famous for his surreal, stop-motion animation film, short films and feature films such as Punch and Judy (1966) and Alice (1988). His works have influenced many artists and filmmakers such as the Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam.
The exhibition had many decor pieces, prints, puppets, costumes and films on display from the last 50 years, starting from Švankmajer’s first film The Last Trick (1964). But especially the extraordinary sculptures of his imaginary beasts impressed me most. I still have not determined if these beasts, assembled from bones, shells and stones, frightened me or delighted me. Look at the photos below and decide for yourself. (More photos on my Flickr page in the Švankmajer set.)

Svankmajer 1

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Come and See

Serpentine Sackler Gallery (29th Nov 2013 – 9th Feb 2014) FREE
I am sure the following statement must be my finest piece of art journalism: this show is truly MAD! It is a collage of extremely detailed art works that balances between psychotic madness and a fantastic sense of humour.


There is a lot to take in at the exhibition by these English visual artists and I suggest going there more than once if you get the chance, there is just so much detail in lots of the works!
The exhibition features prints, paintings, films and sculptures. Don’t get scared when you walk into the film room as your fellow cinemagoers include a few members of the Ku Klux Klan who intend no harm, but probably just want to educate themselves. My favourite parts of the exhibition so far (I am definitely going back again) are the Hell landscapes and the room with cardboard replicas of the Chapman brothers’ most famous works, although perhaps not replicated in the same sophisticated manner as the originals. The massive Hell landscapes made out of miniature Nazis, dinosaurs and crucified Ronald McDonalds offer visitors a glimpse in a grim and curious apocalyptic afterworld.
More photos of the Chapman brothers show are on my Flickr page in the Chapman brothers set.

Crucified Ronald McDonald

Prehistoric apocalyptic drive-thru

Connect the dots (left) and indigenous tribal art found in the Las Vegas desert (right)

Brothers Quay – The Quay Brothers’ Universum

EYE filmmuseum, Amsterdam (15 Dec 2013 – 9 March 2014) € 9
Just the stunning building of the film museum in Amsterdam alone is worth a visit. From the train station you can take a short (and free) ferry trip over the IJ which makes the museum visit even more special. The museum has regular film screenings and hosts major exhibitions. In the summer of 2012 I saw the impressive Stanley Kubrick exhibition at EYE film museum.
At the entrance of the current Quay Brothers show you are told that the overall visit can take up to 4 to 5 hours. With a flight to catch back to London later that day, that message made me a bit nervous. But once I entered the captivating universe of these American born twins, everything else was forgotten. The exhibition shows many of their films from the first student films to a brand-new film specially commissioned for this exhibition. I was especially captivated by the diorama boxes which are small installations used as the sets for their films. Peeking into these magical worlds make you feel like a child again perceiving the world through a View-Master.

Diorama box from the outside (left) and a close-up (right)

What I really appreciated in this exhibition was that it gives a wider context to the artists and their works. There are films shown by artists who have influenced the Quay Brothers (including Švankmajer) and artefacts from scientific collections and curiosity cabinets from which they drew influence.

Set for the famous Quay Brothers film Street of Crocodiles

I highly recommend seeing this fantastic show. You get the feeling to access a little ‘behind the scenes’ insight in the ungraspable makings of the spellbinding Universe of the Quay.
See more photos of the Quay Brothers show on my Flickr page in the Quay Brothers set.

Set for the BBC2 ident by the Quay Brothers (or a portrait of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean)

In the end I spent about 2.5 hours there (with plenty of time to catch my flight). If you watch all the films in the exhibition a visit will certainly take about 5 hours.
One practical note for (international) visitors: cash is not accepted in the museum (neither in the shop). You can pay by card only. I’ve been told that Visa cards are accepted, so visitors from the UK should be fine.

Also on display in the Brothers Quay exhibition. I knew there’s a connection between beer and art!

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10 thoughts on “The Macabre Trinity of Wonderful Worlds: Švankmajer, the Chapman Brothers and the Brothers Quay

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  5. Thanks for this post. I’m a huge fan of the Quay Brothers and Svankmajer. I’d never heard of the Chapman Brothers, so now they have a new fan. 🙂

  6. In a very timely way, you’ve managed to touch upon the work of 3 artists (or at least 3 artist ‘identities’, since these are really 5 people) who have really inspired me over the years too!
    I’ll never forget my first introduction to any of them, and my immediate fascination in their method and process as well as the narrative arcs in their works. Great work Z, I am envious you got to take in such a brilliant few months. Thanks too for including the photographs which are a wonderful taster of this work too. 🙂

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