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V&A unveils Alice In Wonderland exhibition

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

London’s V&A Museum is celebrating one of the most iconic, imaginative and inspiring stories of all time, Alice in Wonderland in its landmark exhibition for 2021, with an immersive and fantastical journey down the rabbit hole across five Alice-inspired worlds, spanning film, performance, fashion, art, music and photography.

Originally set to open last year, but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ will finally offer visitors the chance to delve into the origins, adaptations and reinventions of Alice in Wonderland over 158 years, charting the book’s evolution from manuscript to a global phenomenon through 300 objects.

Described as one of the museum’s “most ambitious” exhibitions by its director Dr Tristram Hunt, ‘Alice: Curiouser And Curiouser’ aims to transport visitors into the otherworldly experiences shaped by theatrical sets, immersive environments and playful displays, including the museum’s first virtual reality experience.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

During the digital press preview, Kate Bailey, senior curator of theatre and performance at the V&A, said: “This is the first exhibition to look at the impact and influence of Alice across disciplines, and we will provide visitors with a dynamic theatrical experience, transporting them through space, time and scale into a series of different encounters and dimensions, inspired by the books through Alice’s adventurous journey.

“We also consider why creative minds turn to Alice as a source of inspiration. Exploring the context of the book’s creation and unpicking how its themes and philosophical ideas are still so relevant today in five sections, each with a distinct theatrical setting, showing how the original text has been reimagined and reinterpreted by each generation, and how it permeates culture, politics and society.”

V&A ‘Alice: Curiouser And Curiouser’ exhibition features Vivienne Westwood, Iris van Herpen and Viktor and Rolf

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the enchanting and extraordinary world of Wonderland, through Alice’s eyes, with sets designed by award-winning designer Tom Piper, best known for his stage designs for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the V&A as well as his Tower of London poppies installation.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘Alice: Curiouser And Curiouser’ starts with a magical “down the rabbit hole” descent into the V&A’s subterranean Sainsbury Gallery, where visitors are transported into ‘Creating Alice’ an Oxford-inspired space that traces Alice in Wonderland’s origins, and the people, the politics and the places that inspired Lewis Carroll, as well as the ‘real’ Alice, alongside Carroll’s handwritten manuscript.

Visitors then follow the white rabbit to ‘Filming Alice’ charting the creative development of Alice on-screen throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with the earliest film based on the books in 1903, featuring film clips, designs, animation cels, scripts and costumes. The most striking feature is a giant caterpillar and mushroom alongside concept art from Walt Disney’s seminal Alice in Wonderland film in 1951 and Tim Burton’s 2010 blockbuster adaptation.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fashion highlights in ‘Filming Alice’ include Christian Dior’s 1947 collection best known for its distinctive silhouettes as the inspiration for Mary Blair’s recreation of Alice, alongside Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood’s recreation of 1860s inspired costumes.

Drawing on 1960s surrealism and psychedelia, ‘Reimagining Alice’ celebrate reinventions of Wonderland through works by Salvador Dalí, Yayoi Kusama, Max Ernst and Peter Blake as well as the 1966 BBC film directed by the late Sir Jonathan Miller. The distorted and psychedelic environment offers a weird and wonderful visual experience including a life-sized Mad Hatter’s tea party, brought to life through playful digital projections.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘Staging Alice’ explores how the books have inspired dance, music and performance from ballet to opera and theatre. Bringing past performances to life, visitors can get closer than ever to concept designs, set models, props and costume, including Royal Opera House stage costumes.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The final section, ‘Being Alice’ offers an exploration of modern-day fascination and reinvention of Alice in Wonderland across art, science and popular culture, with fashion from Iris van Herpen, Viktor and Rolf, Vivienne Westwood and Thom Browne. There is also a dedication to Alice inspired street-style garments, highlighting that “anyone can be Alice,” explains Bailey.

Tim Walker’s celebrated 2018 Pirelli Calendar recreating Wonderland with an all-black cast including RuPaul, Naomi Campbell, P Diddy and Adwoa Aboah, styled by Edward Enninful also features prominently.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition finale allows visitors to step “through the looking glass” with an immersive digital art installation inspired by the text and imagery within the Alice stories.

V&A Alice in Wonderland first to offer virtual reality experience

The exhibition aims to immerse visitors into the world of Alice around every turn, including a “mind-bending” game of croquet in virtual reality. Visitors emerge into the Queen of Hearts’ croquet ground to pit their wits in ‘A Curious Game of Croquet’.

This marks the first V&A exhibition ever to offer a virtual reality experience and has been developed in partnership with HTC Vive Arts and produced by immersive games studio Preloaded. The visuals are based on new artworks created by Icelandic artist Kristjana S. Williams, commissioned for the V&A’s exhibition publication.

An extended version of the V&A’s virtual reality experience is also available to download and features enriched animation, additional scenes and narrative elements, including the presence of the iconic ‘white rabbit’ as your own personal companion. ‘Curious Alice’ is available for users in English and traditional Chinese to download through Viveport, as well as through other major online VR platforms.

‘Alice: Curiouser And Curiouser’ will run from May 22 to December 31, 2021, at the V&A in London.

Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Image: courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Alice In Wonderland
Virtual Reality