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Get a Taste for Mushroom Art at This New, Fungus-Forward Exhibition

“Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi” celebrates shrooms like you’ve never seen them before

The headlining image for the upcoming exhibition, "Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi" (Somerset House)
smithsonianmag.com

Atop a pizza, mushrooms might spark some controversy. But these fascinating fungi are undeniably evocative of at least a little whimsy—and worthy of some artistic celebration.

That’s why curator Francesca Gavin organized a new exhibition featuring fungi in all their glory at Somerset House in London, reports Mark Brown for the Guardian. Called “Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi,” the show will premiere in January and run through April 26, 2020.

Spurred by a recent spate of shrooms in modern artworks, Gavin decided to pay the fungi their due.

“I just noticed mushrooms popping up everywhere,” she tells Brown. “I then kind of fell into a mushroom wormhole. … There is so much enthusiasm for mushrooms and so much innovation.”

The exhibit will spotlight the work of more than 40 artists, designers and musicians, each with their own unique take on the spore-producing organisms. Accompanying the exhibition will be a series of mushroom-themed events, including communal dining pop-ups and seminars and panels detailing some of the fungi’s mind-altering effects.

Often associated with detritus and decay, mushrooms have long shirked the limelight—or perhaps they’ve been intentionally left out. But maligned mushrooms are incredibly useful: Employed in the right way, they can help us construct buildings and fight off nasty diseases. And they’re tasty to boot. In the culinary world, they’re now taking over menus, and sales of specialty varieties have skyrocketed in recent years, according to Andrew Carter at AgFunderNews.

mindful mushroom - Seana Gavin_0.jpg
Mindful Mushroom by Seana Gavin (Somerset House)

At “Mushrooms,” the appeal goes beyond simple edibility. Capitalizing on mushrooms’ dual powers of aesthetic appeal and sustainability, designers like Jae Rhim Lee and Kristel Peters have transformed fungi into fashion—for instance, a biodegradable burial suit and a high-heeled shoe. (It’s true: Mushrooms can be mode.)

Other works on display are curious side projects cobbled together by creatives known for other artworks. Among them is a book of recipes and illustrations published by John Cage, who gained international renown for his musical compositions but supplied New York restaurants with foraged fungi on the side, Brown reports. Another artistic anomaly comes from children’s author Beatrix Potter, who contributed a stunning collection of some 300 fungi and lichen watercolors completed before she achieved fame for her writing. Mushrooms, once a hobby for many, became intoxicating masterpieces of their own accord.

“Mushrooms” is chock full of more classically visual pieces, too, including a natural history portfolio from Cy Twombly, a 3-D papier-mâché from Amanda Cobbett, and paintings from Alex Morrison and Graham Little. Whatever their poison, mycophiles will have plenty to enjoy.

“Everyone loves a mushroom, it makes people happy,” Gavin tells Brown. “There is something light-hearted to it and perhaps it’s an antidote to a lot of the conceptualism of contemporary art.”

Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi” is on view at the Somerset House in London from January 31 to April 26, 2020.

About Katherine J. Wu
Katherine J. Wu

Katherine J. Wu is a Boston-based science journalist and Story Collider senior producer. She holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunobiology from Harvard University. Previously, she served as a Digital Editor at NOVA Next and was Smithsonian magazine's 2018 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

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