Moore Adventures in Wonderland

Moore Adventures in Wonderland
Rosenbach Museum & Library
September 23, 2009 – June 6, 2010

Sue Johnson
The Rosenbach Museum & Library’s new exhibition Moore Adventures in Wonderland, currently on view through June 6, 2010, is a Marianne Moore and Alice in Wonderland-inspired installation, created by Rosenbach Artist-in-Residence, Sue Johnson. The exhibition investigates the Rosenbach’s collection of the work of author Lewis Carroll and Modernist American poet and writer Marianne Moore and uncovers the unexpected connections between the two.

To celebrate the exhibition and the forthcoming release of the major motion picture Alice in Wonderland, from Walt Disney Pictures and visionary director Tim Burton (opens March 5, 2010), the Rosenbach will also offer several Lewis Carroll and Marianne Moore inspired programs and events in 2010, from Gallery Talks and Hands-On Tours, to the special event A Mad Tea Party (March 3).

The Rosenbach Museum & Library is located at 2008-2010 Delancey Place in Philadelphia and is open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and groups of 10 or more, $5 for students and children ages 5-18, and free for children under 5.

With Moore Adventures in Wonderland, artist Sue Johnson has created a poetic archive and a hyper-visual experience using photography, painting, and digital collage of selected objects from the Rosenbach’s Marianne Moore collection presented in arrangements which recall scenes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. These multi-media trompe l’oeil (French for ‘trick of the eye’) images are displayed in large boxes reminiscent of Victorian specimen cabinets. This installation leads the viewer on a journey through a conceptual rabbit hole, only to realize at the end of the journey that, like Alice, one hasn’t really travelled at all, but sees the surroundings in a new light.

“When I first was approached by the Rosenbach to work with the collections and create an artist project I already had an inkling that the Marianne Moore archives would be of interest because her poetry often created equivalences between humans and wild nature in poems such as “The Octopus,” “The Paper Nautilus” and “No Swan So Fine.” I spent my time poring over her clipping files, each folder carefully labeled like a personal encyclopedia, and working with museum staff to access her vast collection of art objects and other ephemera,” says Sue Johnson.

“Along with my interest in Moore, I had a long-standing interest in the works of Lewis Carroll and the picturing of his characters by Sir John Tenniel,” continues Johnson. “Over time it became clear to me that I was drawn to both Moore and Carroll because of the way each created new ways to understand the world and human relations by situating Nature’s creatures as protagonist. This aspect is central to my own work, and I found new inspiration in the Rosenbach archives as I imagined Moore’s collection of objects as natural history specimens now curated by me through the lens of a ‘new wonderland.”’

Marianne Moore (1887 – 1972) was a Modernist American poet and writer and a central figure in New York Modernism. The Rosenbach houses The Moore Collection, including a recreation of Moore’s living room – where she worked for more than forty years – just as she once lived in it. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Moore’s complete library, with many personally inscribed and annotated books from her friends and contemporaries including Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Elizabeth Bishop, is part of the Rosenbach collections in addition to drafts of her poetry, correspondence and unpublished memoirs. The collection is a unique literary repository, preserving intact a comprehensive record of a writer’s intellectual development.

Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832 – 1898), was an English author, mathematician, and Anglican clergyman. His most famous writings are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass as well as the poems “The Hunting of the Snark” and “Jabberwocky”, all examples of the genre of literary nonsense. The Rosenbach Museum & Library today preserves one of the world’s finest Lewis Carroll collections: over five hundred letters in Charles Dodgson’s hand, nearly three dozen original drawings by Sir John Tenniel, rare and often inscribed copies of his books, photographs, and much more. In 1928, museum co-founder Dr. A.S. W. Rosenbach purchased at auction the original manuscript to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The manuscript was not the first significant Carroll item the Doctor purchased. It was, however, a purchase that stunned Britain and earned him the moniker “The Man Who Bought Alice” in America. Dr. Rosenbach sold the manuscript quickly, but by a quirk of fate, was able to purchase it back in 1946, at which point he and Lessing J. Rosenwald presented it to the British Library as a gift.

Coinciding with the Moore Adventures in Wonderland exhibition, the Rosenbach will present several related programs and events throughout the season. On Wednesday, March 3 from 6pm – 8pm, the Rosenbach will host the special event A Mad Tea Party to toast Lewis Carroll and his Alice books. Guests are invited to examine the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, meet Scott Hoyt, director of the documentary The Meaning of Tea and sample unique teas with Alexis Siemons, a Philadelphia tea enthusiast and founder of the blog

As part of the museum’s popular Hands-On Tours programming, the Rosenbach will feature two related tours: Marianne Moore, Modernist Poet (Feb. 28, Apr. 7 and 23), which looks at Marianne Moore’s letters, clippings and the objects she surrounded herself with; and Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson (Mar. 10, 14, 19), which explores both the man and the author and features original drawings by Sir John Tenniel (the illustrator of the Alice books), photographs of children taken by Carroll, and copies of his books. The Gallery Talk “Curiouser and curiouser” (Feb. 24) will look at the influence of Lewis Carroll on Johnson’s work, in addition to A.S.W. Rosenbach’s purchase and sale of the original Alice manuscript which caused an international sensation.

The exhibition will feature a free gallery guide which includes an essay by Dr. Jennifer Cognard-Black about the ways in which Moore Adventures in Wonderland merges the curiosities of Carroll’s Alice books with the unconventional poetics of Moore by evoking scenes from Carroll’s books through arranged objects selected from the Moore archives. Cognard-Black is an Associate Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she specializes in transatlantic Victorian literatures and fiction writing.

Rosenbach Museum & Library