New Yorkers from all walks of life, especially the children, cherish the bronze “Alice in Wonderland” statue in Central Park. The reason children in particular are so drawn to this statue is because unlike traditional art which usually comes with a “do not touch” sign, this statue is interactive. Children are allowed to touch and climb the sculpture, and the polished and worn down metal is proof that thousands if not millions of children have done just that. Years ago, I was one of them.
Featuring the characters from Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland,” this climbable statue takes one out of the seen world and into the realm of corporate imagination. The cherished bronze status is right next to the boating pond in Central Park. Because it of its generally round shape, it is accessible from all sides. Nearly fifteen feet high and twenty feet wide, the statue is of Alice and her many friends, including the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit. Alice is the centerpiece of the sculpture, about ten feet tall, sitting on an oversized mushroom.
While mostly brown, the sculpture has been so worn down by children that much of the metal is now a bright golden hue. Touch is not often one of the senses we use to appreciate art. Something that is touchable and climbable is usually part of the landscape. This is why the interaction between people and the statue has such powerful effect on both the person interacting with the statue and the one watching the interaction.
Every day hundreds of children climb on the statue, making it almost unfinished without a few of them hanging around on it. The piece allows people to interact with a world that once only existed in their imaginations. It also represents the way we all aspire to climb art. Maybe not physically, but certainly spiritually. Art historian Brice Marden says that through grappling with art we can learn as much about ourselves as we can about the world outside of us. Marden argues that art creates a “mysterious communalism, a brotherhood and sisterhood” that goes beyond “culture, or race.” During times of trials, it’s comforting to think about and appreciate the shared experiences through public, communal projects such as the statue of Alice in Wonderland.