It’s been more than a century and a half since Alice first traveled to Wonderland, and in the years since, Lewis Carroll’s (occasionally) pint-sized heroine has starred in everything from film and fashion to music and ballet. Now the story is getting the royal treatment, with a major exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum

Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at The Royal Ballet,
In 2011, Zenaida Yanowsky originated the role of the Queen of Hearts in

Opening 27 June 2020, the V&A’s “Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser” will be the most in-depth, immersive exhibit on the story to date, covering the inception of Carroll’s fever dream – as a way to entertain his boss’s daughters during a leisurely boat trip on the Thames – to its modern-day status as a cultural touchstone and inspiration to artists like Tim Burton and Salvador Dalí. 

Alice at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by John Tenniel, 1865 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.jpg
Alice at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by John Tenniel, 1865 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Award-winning designer Tom Piper is bringing his theatrical talents the proceedings, which will feature more than 300 objects in areas ranging from film and performance to fine art and photography, as well as stage sets, large-scale projections, and interactive displays – think: secret doors and games of flamingo croquet. According to an early press release, “the V&A exhibition will reveal the impact of Alice across all artistic disciplines spanning art, film, performance, fashion and photography” – and given the depths of the character’s hold on the pop-culture imagination, the options are practically endless. 

Photograph of the 'real' Alice Liddell, by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Pomona', albumen print, 1872 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.jpg
Photograph of the 'real' Alice Liddell, by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Pomona', albumen print, 1872 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibit will begin with a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole – in this case, the museum’s subterranean Sainsbury Gallery – and end with a “through the looking glass”–style digital installation; in between, visitors will venture through several themed displays exploring the history and influence of Carroll’s best-known tale. The first section, "Creating Alice", will delve into the story’s roots with, among other things, an introduction to the real-life inspiration for the character and illustrator John Tenniel’s original drawings for the book’s first edition. 

Next, "Filming Alice" will trace the story’s Hollywood evolution, from the first cinematic retelling in 1903 to Walt Disney’s 1951 big-screen adaptation – perhaps the best known interpretation of Alice’s weird, wonderful world – to Tim Burton’s trippy 2010 take. 

'Cheshire cat', psychedelic poster by Joseph McHugh, published by East Totem West. USA, 1967 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.jpg
'Cheshire cat', psychedelic poster by Joseph McHugh, published by East Totem West. USA, 1967 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From there, it’s on to the surreal, psychedelic contributions of the 1960s, from the music of the Beatles to works by artists like Yayoi Kusama, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí. (The Spanish painter provided the illustrations for a limited printing in 1969 – 2700 copies in all, each one signed by the artist himself.) Titled "Reimagining Alice", the section peaks with a tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter, and an invitation for a game of croquet.

Salvador Dali, A Mad Tea Party, 1969, © Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2019. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lynne B. and Roy G. Sheldon, 1999.183.12_2.jpg
Salvador Dali, A Mad Tea Party, 1969, © Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2019. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lynne B. and Roy G. Sheldon, 1999.183.12_2

"Staging Alice" will look at how the Alice books have been depicted in dance, music, and theatrical performances, via concept designs, props, costumes, and more from national and international productions alike. Finally, Being Alice will highlight the character’s enduring appeal in the modern era, from political protests to cutting-edge couture to high-profile photography, including fashion collections from Viktor & Rolf and Tim Walker’s 2018 Pirelli Calendar, which recreated Wonderland with an all-black cast starring RuPaul and Naomi Campbell. 

Photograph taken during a protest against Jacob Zuma, Cape Town, 7 April 2017 (c) Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp.jpg
Photograph taken during a protest against Jacob Zuma, Cape Town, 7 April 2017 (c) Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into nearly 175 languages and since its initial publication in 1865, it’s never been out of print. “Alice encourages us all to question, to learn, to explore, and to dream,” Kate Bailey, senior curator of theatre and performance at the V&A, said in a press release. “Discovering why she’s an endless source of inspiration for some of the world’s most creative minds has been an extraordinary adventure. We look forward to welcoming visitors of all ages into Alice’s magical and mind-bending Wonderland, to imagine their own world on the other side of the Looking Glass.” 

The exhibit runs through 10 January 2021, and tickets go on sale in spring. For more information, visit vam.ac.uk. 

This article was originally published on 22 October, 2019 and updated on 3 December, 2019. 

This article was first published Oct 22, 2019 and updated Dec 3, 2019.

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