Alice In Wonderland is the first exhibition to comprehensively focus on Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice” books and their enormous influence on the world of visual arts from the first publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 to the present day.
From the 25th of February to the 3rd of June 2012, the visual extravaganza (organized by the Tate Liverpool in collaboration with the Mart di Rovereto and the Hamburger Kunsthalle) will take center stage at the Mart. Lewis Carroll was an active participant in the artistic scene of his time as both an innovative photographer and a scholar interested in art and artists. He kept company with talent like the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the sculptor Alexander Munro, and the artist Sir John Everett Millais. Paintings by Rossetti and Millais are part of the Mart’s Alice In Wonderland exhibition along with others by William Holman Hunt and Arthur Hughes about whom Carroll wrote in his famous diaries.
The timing of the exhibition is perfect of course since July, 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the first telling of the Alice in Wonderland story to Alice Liddell, Carroll’s inspiration for Alice. 2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of Macmillan’s first publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I asked Cristiana Collu, Director of the Mart, the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum of Trento and Rovereto, to share her views on the exhibition and what Alice in Wonderland means to Italians.
What do Lewis Carroll’s Alice books mean to Italians young and old?
Carroll’s books are classics and form part of the Western collective imagination. I don’t know if there is a specifically Italian perception of Alice as character, but I am sure that there are numerous versions and translations, the last of which I have heard is A s´àtera ala de s´ispigru and su chi Alisedda b´at agatadu; in other words, a version in Sardinian (which is the region I come from myself). The example is a very significant one because it uses the tale of Alice to revive not only a language that has fallen into neglect but also to create neologisms, and finally to combine the richness of the culture of the place, founded on the intangible heritage of oral transmission, with codified literature. A process of recognition and appropriation is set into motion that says much if not all about the extraordinary strength of the Alice story.
What can visitors to the Mart’s Alice in Wonderland exhibit expect to discover when they visit? What will make the Mart’s exhibit unique in contrast to the Tate’s version?
The exhibition is a world of marvels, just as is the museum, offspring of the wunderkammer (an encyclopedic collection of objects). In this sense, the marvel is not only that which surprises, astonishes and leaves us open-mouthed, but on the contrary that which functions as a veritable detonator of our creativity, our capacity for reaction and problem-solving, our willingness to see things in a different way and the world from new points of view; when all is said and done, it calls things into question. Having doubts for Alice is not synonymous with the fragility of her being but with her capacity for growth, for ‘muchness’. Our visitors will find this ‘muchness’ in the presentation of the exhibition, in the way the exhibition has been laid out, which we have sought to interpret with a precise visual identity corresponding to the reading of the references made between museum, literary work, works on display, interludes and scores held together by a graphic design that is able to maintain the weight of the whole throughout, without ceasing to lighten it with irony and freshness.
Can you tell us about some of the Italian artists and writers that have been inspired by Lewis Carroll’s works? Are any of these important artists or their works featured in the Mart’s exhibit?
Carroll’s tales have enjoyed an extraordinary following in Italy too. We could draw up infinite lists of translations, free interpretations, adapted versions for children and freely inspired transpositions (including the fine one by Gianni Rodari, Alice nelle figure), and those for adults (Aldo Busi’s version, for instance) and for the film festival in Rome, “Alice nella città” and its logo, designed by Marti Guixé. I believe that Alice really is a sort of catch-all, an emblematic metaphor of which art and its various forms, from cinema to design, painting to sculpture and video art, have made use to ‘illustrate’ even the dark and dense part that the girl and her author have represented. Alice in Wonderland, however, does not contemplate works by Italian artists; we shall instead draw some in who will offer their personal vision, taking the suggestions offered by the exhibition in tune or opposition to their style so they may offer us their own personal vision.
Do you think Italians are aware of the story behind the story, i.e. that Alice Liddell was Carroll’s inspiration for the story and also that many of the characters in the book were inspired by her family and her environment? Is this something that you believe will be of interest?
The Italian public is thus informed that the exhibition layout, which is also chronological, will offer a series of points enabling many to put together pieces of a puzzle that they already possessed, thus offering a complete and conscious vision of the history and of the world subtending all, together with what occurs behind the scenes. I have no doubt that even these aspects will be of considerable appeal and interest.
What does this exhibit mean to you? What are some of your personal favorites in the exhibits?
I prefer the exhibition as a whole. I loved the project and experienced the crucial part of the creation of its identity within the Mart. Together with all my collaborators who have shared this adventure with me, I am certain that we have created a testimonial of our change, a device that not only translates but implements our vision of the museum as a place of utopias, of possibilities, of a stereoscopic and at the same time timely view; a place in which we feel ourselves to be in ‘Wonderland’, elsewhere and yet at home.
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto, the Mart, is one of the most important museums in Italy. For more information
Photos courtesy of the Alice in Wonderland Exhibition at the Mart, the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum of Trento and Rovereto.
C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld