Meet Kate Bailey curator of V&A's Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser
We've recently caught up with the formidable Kate Bailey, curator of V&A's AMAZING Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition which is currently on until the end of the year. We're pretty excited to learn more about how Kate landed such a dreamy job and more about the exhibition itself so let's dive straight in...
How did you get into curating?
I’ve always been passionate about history, art, research and storytelling and am deeply curious about everything! Growing up I loved art, theatre, visiting museums and experiencing different cultures. After studying art history at Warwick University, I volunteered at museums and galleries before finally finding a job working at Leighton House Museum. I then spent some time working with exhibition designers interpreting and creating theatrical exhibitions on various subjects before joining the V&A, Theatre and Performance department as a curator. Since working with the V&A collections, I have curated exhibitions about opera, the West End, music hall, Shakespeare and Glastonbury!
What's your favourite part of the V&A exclusive Tatty Devine Alice in Wonderland collection?
I really love the Tea Party necklace. It’s joyous but also a little bit bonkers - perfect for any occasion, but especially a tea party. Oh and who wouldn’t want a big smiling Cheshire Cat brooch! It would definitely brighten up any outfit.
How long did it take from start to finish to put the exhibition together?
The idea for a major ‘Alice in Wonderland’ exhibition at the V&A has developed over several years. The V&A Museum of Childhood curated a smaller exhibition ‘The Alice Look’ in 2015 which coincided with the 150th anniversary of the first book’s publication. The V&A in South Kensington also produced a hugely successful exhibition on ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ in 2017, another classic of children’s literature, which demonstrated how culturally significant these works are to our audiences of all ages. The Alice books and the V&A follow the same timeline and it has been inspiring to look at how the story has inspired creativity and imagination across media, time and technology. This exhibition has also been inspired by a fantastic opportunity to showcase object highlights of the V&A from our collection, including original proofs of illustrations by John Tenniel and photography by Julia Margaret Cameron.
Is there anything special we really can't miss in the exhibit?
It has been fascinating to discover the story of the ‘real’ Alice - Alice Liddell - who requested that Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) entertain her and her sisters with a story one afternoon on a rowing boat in Oxford in the ‘creating Alice’ section of the exhibition there will be a photograph of a grown up Alice Liddell, taken by pioneering photographer Julia Margert Cameron. The real Alice’s curious and tenacious character directly inspired Carroll’s adventurous heroine. In this photo, a confident Alice stares at the viewer with one hand placed on her hip.
What is your favourite thing about Alice in Wonderland?
Alice herself! As a child I loved Alice's curious nature, her adventurous spirit and that she speaks truth to power. As an adult it has been really great to reread the Alice books and to discover the relevance of Alice - one of the first female heroines in children’s literature - to the twenty-first century. Alice really is at the heart of each of the 5 sections of the exhibition and visitors will follow her journey and transformation from her origins as the real ‘Alice’: Alice Liddell, to Disney's instantly recognizable blonde-haired girl in a blue-dress, alongside her ongoing inspiration for leading creatives, from Salvador Dalí and The Beatles to Little Simz and Tim Walker.
Tell us a secret fact about the V&A?
Much of the V&A’s floors are covered in beautiful mosaic which were apparently laid by women prisoners, back in the 1860s!
The Theatre and Performance collections are full of wonders and surprises – where else in the world can you discover Shakespeare’s first folio, Julie Taymor’s Lion King, Vivien Leigh’s Oscar, Kylie’s Dressing Room and Shirley Bassey’s feathers!
Are you working on any other exciting projects?
I have jumped from one creative Wonderland into another! I am currently immersed in the Glastonbury Festival archive, tracing the fifty year history of this extraordinary festival of performing arts. Discovering how this unique Somerset festival has grown and influenced festival culture the world over. We are creating an interactive map which will allow visitors, wherever they are, to explore the V&A Glastonbury collections and curating a programme of responses to the archive and festival site, which will include pastoral concerts and sonic and visual immersive experiences.
If you're reading this and still haven't booked in to see the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A... what are you waiting for? Tickets are getting booked up in advance so check the available dates now here!
You can also shop Tatty Davine's exclusive collection in partnership with the V&A here.