Launching its 2020 season, Somerset House
invites visitors to explore the fascinating world of mushrooms in a new exhibition from curator and writer, Francesca Gavin. Through the work of over 40 artists, designers and musicians, Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi celebrates the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism, the ideas it inspires in the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic, and the powerful promise it offers to reimagine societys relationship with the planet, inspiring new thinking around design and architecture. An extensive events programme from leading artists and experts accompanies the exhibition, spanning design, sustainability, health and beauty.
Exhibition highlights include:
Seminal American artist, Cy Twomblys expressive portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms explores the relation between the natural world and human history
Watercolours from one of the world's best-selling children's authors, Beatrix Potter, whose vast collection of mushroom illustrations have formed a significant contribution to scientific understanding of the organism
A pioneering architectural project using upcycled agro-waste to form new building materials from architectural technologist Mae-ling Lokko
Ground-breaking designs using mycelium reimagines a sustainable future for the fashion industry from shoe designer Kristel Peters and textile designer, Aniela Hoitink
Insight into the mind of one of the leading composers of the 20th century, John Cage, and his passion for mushrooms in his limited-edition publication, Mushroom Book
Inspiring works from emerging contemporary artists including Seana Gavin, Adham Faramawy and Hamish Pearch span a multitude of art forms from experimental video and collage to sculpture and textile
Award-winning design firm Pentagram confirmed as Mushrooms exhibition designers, with a new custom typeface commission inspired by fungi
Events highlights include:
TABLE, a mushroom-inspired pop-up dining experience at Somerset House from acclaimed chef and Spring restaurant founder Skye Gyngell with specially curated 3-course meals from prominent guest chefs
Exclusive seminar from integrative medicine pioneer Dr Andrew Weil on the medicinal and health benefits of mushrooms, presented by Beauty and Wellness Partner, Origins
Mushrooms brings together work from leading international artists and designers, renowned for their use of the mushroom motif, to explore three themes: Mycophilia; Magic Mushrooms; and Fungal Futures. Across three rooms, transformed by award-winning designers Pentagram, visitors encounter a spectacular range of interdisciplinary works, spanning large-scale sculpture, hand-cut collage, painting, drawing, photography and film, all featuring the magnificent fungi. The incredible versatility of mushrooms is further celebrated in new, conceptual pieces from designers working across architecture, furniture and fashion, all pushing the boundaries of design through the use of mycelium and bio-based materials in their work.
Immersing visitors in the incredible kingdom of fungi, the exhibition opens with a celebration of mushrooms exploring the theme of Mycophilia, with mushroom-inspired works that both inform current scientific understanding of the organism and capture artistic responses to it. Highlights include selected watercolours from the renowned author Beatrix Potter, whose collection of over 300 scientific illustrations of mushrooms and fungi, lesser known by her readers, form a significant contribution to the study of natural history and is still used by mycologists today. The seminal American artist Cy Twombly explores the relation between the natural world and human history in his quasi-scientific portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974). Formed of lithographic prints with collaged sheets of paper and photographs, the series captures Twomblys characteristic expressive, graphic style, uniting logic and chaos in the human quest for knowledge.
Alex Morrisons colourful oil painting on canvas Mushroom Motif pays homage to William Morris approach to textile and graphics, Graham Littles Untitled (Wood) 2019 transports audiences to a quiet autumnal woodland, whilst RA graduate Hamish Pearchs realistic sculptures of sprouting fungi reflect on the continuous lifecycle of decay and re-invention. Antique copies of Alice in Wonderland display various interpretations of the notorious caterpillar seated atop a mushroom from illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and John Tenniel, in a scene now widely recognised as a key depiction of the mushroom as a door to another world.
This mysticism that surrounds the mushroom is further explored in Magic Mushrooms as artists delve into the themes of psychedelia, poetry and spirituality. Hailed as one of the great music pioneers of the 20th century, John Cage was also fascinated with fungi, co-founding the New York Mycological Society. Cages long-term interest in the subject resulted in Mushroom Book, a limited-edition publication which offers deep insight into his passion for mushrooms, published in collaboration with mycologist Alexander H Smith and artist Lois Long. Visitors can delve into the books framed pages, featuring Cages poetry and hand-written notes alongside Longs beautiful mushroom illustrations.
Fellow mushroom devotees include Amanda Cobbett, who following the launch of her latest collection at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019, captures the mesmerising beauty of the mushroom in her three-dimensional, papier-mâché and machine-embroidered sculptures, each one completely unique. Adham Faramawys experimental piece My fingers distended as honey dripped from your lips and we danced in a circular motion is similarly hypnotic as it captures dancers in 360° video, whilst animations of a fungus emerge and ultimately metabolise the work. Further highlights include hand-cut collage from Seana Gavin, whose imaginative anthropomorphic mushroom characters and architectural structures transport visitors to a fungi-filled world, whilst cult Australian art and fashion label Perks & Mini similarly bring a feeling of playfulness in an irreverent, graphic handmade hanging textile.
Designers working across architecture, furniture and fashion explore the powerful potential of the mushroom in the final theme, Fungal Futures, pushing the boundaries of design in their use of bio-based materials to create pioneering processes and products. Architectural historian and building-material technologist, Mae-ling Lokko, demonstrates the incredible versatility of mushrooms in her ground-breaking project which upcycles agro-waste into new building-materials. The potential of mushroom-based materials is also evident in the use of mycelium, the mass of fine branching tubes (called hyphae) that form the main structure of a fungus, which is moulded into furniture pieces including ceiling pendant lights from Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova. Formed of mycelium and green wood waste harvested from their woodland in Kent, each light shade is grown in the Sebastian Cox Studios laboratory in south east London, to create beautiful and environmentally friendly pieces for the home. This experimental design approach is also used to develop sustainable materials through the work of textile designer, Aniela Hoitink who offers a unique insight into her practice through the display of experimental materials and alternative clothing prototypes, and Belgian shoe designer Kristel Peters who explores possibilities for the development of sustainable shoe design using mycelium.
Visitors to the Somerset House Shop will find a bespoke collection of products inspired by the world of mushrooms available for purchase, including a Limited Edition Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Treatment Lotion presented in a beautiful bottle and box designed by exhibiting artist Alex Morrison. The soothing lotion will be exclusively available from Somerset House for the duration of the exhibition. Further highlights include an accompanying Mushrooms publication featuring a new essay from curator, Francesca Gavin.