Rendezvous with Art, I: Morgan Museum’s Lavish Alice in Wonderland Exhibit

By Dakshayani Shankar

Via Odyssey at NYU

As children, most of us will have turned the pages of Lewis Carroll’s most famous classic novel to date–Alice in Wonderland.

Originally written to host Alice Riddell, a friend of Carroll’s adventures and memories, the novel eventually evolved into a story complete with gorgeous illustrations, talking animal characters and infused with the true essence of childhood. However, whilst many of us have read the novel, we remain largely unaware of the beginnings, history or inspirations of the novel. This is where Morgan Museum’s exclusive Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland exhibition comes to play.

Like the scene where Alice disappears off into a magical tunnel to a world of talking animal characters, visitors are asked to go through a short passageway, filled with gorgeous Michelangelo-styled ceiling murals and quartz-colored, patterned tiles in order to access the exhibition. The Morgan Museum may not have been able to replicate the exact tunnel scene from Carroll’s book. However, the entrance does produce a surrealistic ambience that flamboyantly sets the scene for viewers.

The minute one passes the entrance, one can expect to be immediately thrown into a world of yellow walls, dotted with Carroll’s and Alice Riddell’s (the source of inspiration for Alice) original sketches, photography and writings. Carroll’s toy theater, book of the game of logic, double acrostic poems and photography starts off the exhibition and helps visitors comprehend how and why Carroll began writing Alice in Wonderland the way he did.

Towards the middle, Alice Riddell’s writing case, Book of Common Prayer, jewelry and photographs are arranged in a sequential order to help visitors develop a further understanding on the close relationship Alice had with Carroll and what she expected of the novel.

At the end, original illustrations of the first manuscript’s renowned illustrator, John Tenniel punctuate the remaining wall, merging the world of authorship together with the world of Victorian publishing and publication. The startling differences in perceptions of the original manuscript between the publisher, Alexander Macmillan, Tenniel and Carroll add an element of human emotion into this exhibition, successfully drawing visitors even deeper into the mythical world of Alice in Wonderland.

Whilst it was evident that the theme of the exhibition itself remains the predominant reason behind this exhibition’s increasing popularity and long-winded wait lines, the Museum’s incontestable organization and decoration skills should most definitely be commended, too. The smooth transition from Carroll to Riddell to Tenniel creates a marvelous rhythmic flow that enables visitors to immerse themselves fully in the experience.

At certain points, the long-winded lines and visitors hording over one exhibit may hamper one’s span of concentration and discourage one from delving further into the exhibit. However, the five of six beanbags situated in the middle of exhibition strategically alongside a treasure box filled with various versions of Alice in the Wonderland over the years, does provide one with ample opportunity to recuperate whilst facing the various exhibits.

Morgan Museums 150 Years of Wonderland exhibit is an exquisitely crafted exhibit that possesses the charm to incite excitement in both adult and child. Wonderfully displayed, this is an exhibition that shouldn’t be missed! However, be prepared to wait in long queues.

Dakshayani Shankar is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com

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