Alice & Her Wonderland Pals as Subway Art

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”
― the Cheshire Cat, from 1865’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

A panel from “Alice: the Way Out” on the downtown train platform.

You will find imagination in all of the art seen on our Subway Art Tours, which have returned for the winter touring season. We love the public art in the New York City subway system; it is the largest collection of public art in the world! Discover it on our Tours!

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

A panel from “Alice: the Way Out” on the downtown train platform.

On view at the 50th Street subway station is Alice: The Way Out. It was installed in 1994, making it an early part of the MTA’s art collection. Located near the station exits, this artwork features the characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. They include the Queen of Hearts, Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter.

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

A panel from “Alice: the Way Out” on the uptown train platform.

The artist Liliana Porter (1941– ) designed the glass mosaic panels in such a way that allows the viewer to fill in the details of Alice and her Wonderland friends represented in the silhouetted figures. Ms. Porter, an Argentine native living in New York since 1964, based her work on the original illustrations by John Tenniel (1820–1914) for the Macmillan Publishers’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

A panel from “Alice: the Way Out” on the uptown train platform.

This subway station is at the edge of Broadway’s theater district. These simple but engaging panels reinforce the stagecraft of the musicals, dramas and comedies in the neighborhood theaters. Remember that Alice had her adventures underground; and it is underground where the viewer finds himself. Playfulness and theatricality are brought to the artist’s captive audience, subway riders. As with all of the subway art, what is below the surface is a commentary on what is above ground. Alice is shown pulling back a curtain to reveal the performance, and it is the viewer’s imagination that fills in the details of the shadowy, blue-glass figures.

Click on each photo to enlarge it, and see greater detail.

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

Alice pulls aside the curtain, discovering a little door.

“However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!”
—from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

The White Rabbit checks his pocket watch because he is late for a very important date.

“Suddenly the rabbit with red eyes was running past. Of course, there was nothing surprising in it. However, the rabbit said running: ‘Oh, my God! I’m late.’ ”
—from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

Alice discovers Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

“They were standing under a tree, each with an arm round the other’s neck, and Alice knew which was which in a moment, because one of them had ‘DUM’ embroidered on his collar, and the other ‘DEE.’ ”
—from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

The Mad Hatter is seen with his shoes!

“ ‘You may go,’ said the King, and the Hatter hurriedly left the court.”
—the King of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

The Spade Gardeners paint white roses red.

“Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a RED rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know.”
—a Gardner from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

The Queen of Hearts gives the order to chop off the gardeners’ heads.

“ ‘I see!’ said the Queen, who had meanwhile been examining the roses. ‘Off with their heads!’ and the procession moved on, three of the soldiers remaining behind to execute the unfortunate gardeners, who ran to Alice for protection.”
—the Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

The White Rabbit, as the Herald, sounds his trumpet.

“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!”
—the Herald from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, Subway Art Tour One, Subway Art, Walk About New York, Liliana Porter, mosaics, Broadway, Theater, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Arts for Transit, MTA Arts and Design

A detail from a panel from “Alice: the Way Out” on the uptown train platform.

Other whimsical art is included on Subway Art Tour One; get a preview in our article Subway Art for ‘City Dwellers’. Alice and her Wonderland pals can be found in Central Park, too. Read about them in our article Happy Birthday, Alice. Discover this fabulous work of art on our Central Park Walking Tour. Take the Tour; Know More!

ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT CREDITED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2017. The illustrations by John Tenniel (1820–1914) are from “The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll,” published by Chancellor Press.

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