“In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die: Ever drifting down the stream, Lingering in the golden gleam. Life, what is it but a dream?”
La Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice In Wonderland with a small exhibition (curated by Giulia Quintabà & Maria Luisa Pieri).
This consists of book illustrations from a range of editions of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s timeless classic, together with photographs, objects and brief biographical information.
34 designs are by artists in collaboration with the Treviso Comic Book Festival and these are far preferable to the sappy Disney style illustrations in some of the books on display.
These do not top the original drawings by Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914) which are still the ones that best stand the test of time.
The surrealism and wonderful strangeness of Lewis Carroll’s work means that it’s a work that never really goes out of fashion and remains as popular with adults as with children.
The range of visualizations of the story are a measure of its widespread appeal and show that there are myriad possibilities to how it can be interpreted.
For example, there is a still from the remarkable version made for BBC TV 1966 by Jonathan Miller which emphasized the acid-trip potential while a book with Salvador Dali’s paintings from 1969 brings out aspects of Alice’s adventures as part dream-part nightmare.
Anne Lebovitz’s photo of Natalia Vodrianova for Vogue in 2003 gives Alice a sexier makeover.
On a more conventional (and faithful) note, my favorite modern-day book was published by Rizzoli Milano in 2011 with beautiful illustrations by Rébecca Dautremer.
The exhibition in Cesena cannot hope to be as prestigious as that of the British Museum but the modest resources are put to good use to show that this is not just a story for kids.