Fungi, mushrooms, aids to food, lucid visions and artists – and now an exhibition at Somerset House. It’s one of those exhibitions that opened before the lockdown, and lingered on in the darkness where mushrooms like to live until the shutters were opened again last week.
As a topic, mushrooms are an unusually complex one, for how many other foodstuffs have been the subject of so much artistic interpretation — a slab of beer or a cauliflower certainly wouldn’t merit an exhibition.
In part that can be down to the undoubted hazy effect some of the genera have on humans and in part thanks to the rather erotic appearance some mushrooms have.
So expect a lot of art about mushrooms, but no food.
Other than consumption for mind-bending reasons, the edible mushroom is conspicuous by its absence. As someone who spent most of his youth being exposed to mushrooms only as either tins of the utterly disgusting cream of mushroom soup, or as the not much better liver and kidneys in mushroom sauce, my impression of the mushroom was something to be avoided at all costs.
Had this exhibition had a Warholesque painting of tins of Heinz Cream of Mushroom soup I fear the long-buried memories would have sent me screaming out the room.
It was only much later in a fancy restaurant my then boss took us to for breakfast meeting did I meet a mushroom that had never been near a dairy product, and oh my, was I hooked.
As it is, expect to see some very abstract paintings, some very convincing models, a lot of interpretations, a mystifying video, and in a nod to environmentalism, at the end how fungi could be the next building brick, bra, or coffin. Sadly, the part of the exhibition which would have probably doubled (or more) the time I spent in there is the one that’s hardest to see — a huge collection of mushroom themed postage stamps from around the world.
It’s a modest exhibition – three rooms in total — but also modestly engaging and may make you think about the mushroom in a way other than just added to the breakfast fry up.
The exhibition, Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi is open until 13th September, and is free with a suggested donation of at least £3 to visit.
You need to book a ticket for social distancing reasons here.