In January, works by 35 artists, designers and musicians are on exhibit
While being one of the greatest experimental music composers in the world, John Cage was a man obsessed with mushrooms supplying foraged fungi to New York restaurants.
Before creating Peter Rabbit, Mrs Puddle-Duck and Timmy Tiptoes, the great passion of Beatrix Potter was to look through microscopes and investigate as accurately as possible the germination process of fungal spores and mushroom painting.
Today artists are more interested in fungi than ever before, according to the curator of a new art show.
For a show opening in January at Somerset House in London, Francesca Gavin put together works by 35 artists, designers and musicians to explore the world of mushrooms.
Because she kept spotting mushrooms in art she was attracted to the subject and wanted to know more.
she said that, “I just noticed mushrooms popping up everywhere. I just kept seeing them in art over the past 50 years, but even more in the past three years. I then kind of fell into a mushroom wormhole … there is so much enthusiasm for mushrooms and so much innovation.”
“Everyone loves a mushroom, it makes people happy. There is something light-hearted to it and perhaps it’s an antidote to a lot of the conceptualism of contemporary art, she added.”
Gavin has uncovered for the exhibition some fascinating stories. Cage’s lifelong interest in mushrooms, for example, which in the 1950s led him to revive the New York Mycological Society.
He also supplied mushrooms in upstate New York to make some extra money, including the Four Seasons.
“He’s actually better known in Italy for his love of mushrooms than he is for his music, which I think is amazing,” said Gavin.
It was about the foraging for Cage as much as it was about the mushroom.
“If you think about the peacefulness and space in his work, I think that was very much connected with his love of foraging,” she said.
A rare mushroom book that he published with mycologist Alexander H Smith and illustrator Lois Long will be on display, including the poetry of Cage and handwritten notes on the subject.
The passion and interest of Cage in mycology, like Potter’s, will surprise many.
Gavin said, Over the course of a decade, before she found fame as a writer, Potter completed about 300 fungi and lichen paintings in startling detail. “They are just so beautiful. She was very young when she was doing them … you can see her children’s books as an extension of making narratives around that connection to nature.”
Potter also examined fungi under a microscope and sent a paper to the Linnean Society of London in 1897 on the germination of Agaricineae spores.
Other mushroom-loving artists in the exhibition include Cy Twombly, represented in 1974 by prints of a quasi-scientific series called Natural History Part I, Mushrooms.
Work by designers includes a biodegradable mushroom burial suit by Jae Rhim Lee, which aims to reduce the burial industry’s environmental costs, and the Belgian shoe designer Kristel Peters ‘ high-heeled mycelium shoe.
Gavin said she had learned a lot when she started research for the show and it would include a lot of interesting facts about mushrooms. For example, North Oregon’s 965-hectare (2,384-acre) mushroom, considered the biggest and oldest organism in the world.
The need to reconnect with nature is one reason why mushrooms are in the zeitgeist, Gavin said. “We live in this moment where life has become so urbanised and focused on technology.”
Simply because mushrooms are so esthetically pleasing and people love them. “Honestly, I have never had a response to an exhibition like this, people are really excited.”