Alice in Wonderland Initial reaction Review – Tate Liverpool

6 Nov

Alice in Wonderland’s immersion in popular culture practically gives it cult status. It’s a book that can be read and explored on many levels, that draws you into a surreal world full of rich imagery and unique characters. The illustrations that Carroll commissioned whilst writing the book have become iconic and are seen as an integral part of the book. Over the years the influence of Alice in Wonderland has been tackled by many artists, writers and creators from the Pre-Raphaelites to Walt Disney. One questions why an exhibition of this nature has not been produced until now?

Alice in Wonderland at Tate Liverpool is the first exhibition to explore how Lewis Carroll’s stories have influenced the visual arts whilst providing an insight in to the creation of the novel.

Perhaps it is because of Alices iconic status that the exhibition did not live up to my expectations. There is a lot in this show that is good – but there is nothing that is amazing – nothing that lets you fall down the rabbit hole and explore another world. With a theme like Alice in Wonderland the possibilities are endless and maybe the problem is there are too many. The curation felt very sluggish, presented almost chronically the exhibition begins with the original manuscript and photos of Alice Liddell and ends with Fiona Banner’s Arse Woman in Wonderland perhaps a cheeky nod to Carroll’s implied sexual interests!?

Arse Woman in Wonderland

A lot of the work shown is unexceptional and fails to engage. There are many pieces of minor surrealism hung that remain overlooked and lost. Even the works of Dali and Magritte fail to shine next to the original illustrations. The contemporary work shown pushes no real boundaries and lacks imagination when compared to the story’s narrative. I enjoyed Francesca Woodman’s rather menacing black and white photos and English Heritage by Bill Woodrow. A lot of the video pieces were interesting although Douglas Gordon’s piece  Through a looking Glass was just plain annoying.

The layout of the show felt clumsy with divider walls just dropped in position. If only these could have been arranged in such a way to create a rabbit warren or maze that played with scale or required the viewer to crawl through spaces. Perhaps introducing a Koons or a Takashi Murakami (who even compares himself to the Cheshire Cat welcoming wonderland with a diabolical smile) would have widened the scope of the exhibition.

English Heritage

This is also the last show overseen by Tate Liverpool director Christoph Grunenberg before he leaves the position. Some of the work he has overseen have been amazing and I felt Alice should have been more like previous exhibitions such as shopping or summer of love. Such a shame Christoph will go out with a pop rather than a bang in my book.

Maybe Carroll was just too inspired, too surreal and his book will always outshine the work inspired by it. It is a curious exhibition and worth a visit, there is a lot of text and history on the walls that Carroll enthusiasts will relish and enjoy. I would enjoy a second visit and chance for the work to shine through, as viewing at the private view was not the best time to try and immerse amongst the crowd. But enough of my ramblings, in the words of Alice  “Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.”


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