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8 rue Saint Claude, 3rd arrondissement
September 9 - October 11, 2017

Published at Hyperallergic as Magic Mushrooms in an Unmagical Show

partial installation view of Champignons

At galeriepcp in Paris, London curator and prolific art writer Francesca Gavin has kicked off the new
Paris art season with a tasty show called Champignons (Mushrooms). In it, she explores how some
mycological scientists and contemporary artists have depicted both gastronomic mushrooms and trippy
magic mushrooms (a.k.a. shrooms), with an emphasis on the latter. Curiously, Gavin points out in her
curatorial statement that goofy-looking mushrooms are related more to humans than plants, but she
might have added that they operate along the lines of the internet in that they emerge above ground
from a rhizomatic tangle of branching, multi-cellular fungal threads hidden under the soil. Most
contemporary artists are drawn toward them for their flexible diversity (they have hundreds of sexes)
and their occult, psychedelic-spiritual qualities. There are 1.5 million species of fungi and 209 species of
hallucinogenic mushrooms that grow between life and death in turds, in damp caves or along dead tree
stumps. Gavin also states that her own interest is in blurring the relationships between organic things
like mushrooms and technological realms the branching hyphae of mycelium akin to an internet for
Partial installation view of Champignons (displayed reference material with John Cage LP record cover)

The first thought I had when entering the gallery was: Where is the John Cage work? Alas, there is none.
There is only a Cage LP record cover that has a drawing of mushrooms on it placed within a wall display
of reference material. Mores the pity, for in the art world the Cage-mushroom connection is well
established and iron clad. Cages writings on mushrooms began in 1954 when he moved to the Stony
Point Artists commune, and in 1959 Cage further formalized his interest in mushroom identification by
co-teaching a class on the discipline at the New School in New York City. Famously and enigmatically,
in the same year, Cage participated in an Italian game show called Lascia o Raddoppia (Double or Nothing)
for which he chose mushrooms as his special subject of inquiry. He won around $8,000.00 (in lire) by
recounting the 24 names of the Agaricus fungi and used the money to buy himself a piano and a
Volkswagen van later used in touring his partner Merce Cunninghams new dance company. Three
years later, Cage fully realized his mushroom obsession by co-founding the New York Mycological
Society. This artistic interest in edible mushrooms took a further culinary turn by French artist Jean-
Charles Blanc with his delightful book of 365 mushroom recipes that was published in 1990.

I dont understand this major Cage oversight. Its not like the show doesnt include other pieces from
the time period. It does: Dr. Jung, Koch, and Quentells Chalk Board Style Pull Down Chart of
Mushroom (1963) and Dr. Auzoux and P. Sougys Chalk Board Style Pull Down Chart of Mushroom
(1966) are included and are both quite delightful. So why omit a copy of the 1972 book portfolio (edition
of 75) that Cage co-created in collaboration with the mycologist Alexander H. Smith? Called the
Mushroom Book, it contains 10 lithographs by Cage and 10 lithographs of mushrooms by botanical
illustrator Lois Long, and is filled with recipes, Cages diary entries, and brilliant quotations by Marcel
Duchamp, Henry David Thoreau and Buckminster Fuller. Old hippies will also find missing The Allman
Brothers Bands double album Eat a Peach with its opulent gatefold mural of a whimsical landscape of
psychedelic mushrooms and bejewelled fairies drawn by W. David Powell and J. F. Holmes.
Dr. Jung, Koch & Quentell, Chalk Board Style Pull Down Chart of Mushroom (1963)

Dr. Auzoux & P. Sougy, Chalk Board Style Pull Down Chart of Mushroom (1966)
Ghislane Leung, Shrooms (2016) Chinese night light & adaptor

Most of the works in the show, as with the waggish paintings of Alex Morrison (that evoked the dancing
mushrooms in Walt Disneys 1940 trip-friendly film Fantasia), Sylvie Fleurys trite fiberglass sculptures,
Ghislaine Leungs night lamp Shrooms (2016) and Carsten Hollers Untitled (2015) perforated
digital print, enjoyably depict the impish phallic/hat form that defines a mushroom. This collection of
15 artists work is certainly pleasurable to scrutinize from that perspective, but for the most part, the
show is disappointing in its attempts to assimilate shrooms malleable psychedelic effects on perception
in formal terms (the way Lucio Fontanas psychedelic crucifixes do). This exterior view of mushrooms
amounts to a show about drinking that shows paintings of beer bottles, rather than relaying or describing
the effects of imbibing them. People who consume magic mushrooms are most likely to experience an
altered sense of time, euphoria, synaesthesia, and visionary scenarios that often amount to a beneficial
spiritual awakening. Mind-expanding shrooms can make you feel like youre dreaming when youre
awake. Nimbus colors, woozy noises, and wobbly objects can appear preposterous, generating
phantasmagoria and feelings of disorientation. Given their wonkiness, magic mushrooms can create a
headspace where erudition and imagination become artistic affiliates.
Seana Gavin, Mindful Mushroom (2017) 32 x 24cm, paper collage

Lara Ogel, Subconscious Network (2017) watercolor, ink and collage on paper
Here, the trickster disorientation of collage is the closest we get to that experience with the wild work
of Seana Gavin and Lara Ogel. I particularly enjoyed Ogels piece Subconscious Network (2017), an
intriguing slap-dash collage that nods to pote maudit Antonin Artauds peyote experiences with the
Tarahumaran people in 1936. Gavin too is outstanding, and her piece Mindful Mushroom (2017)
personifies the high fun with mushrooms that is obtainable with their judicious use. Also her Mushroom
City (2016) transmits something of the beautiful craziness of shrooms seen in ethnobotanist Kathleen
(Kat) Harrisons weirder line drawings within the 1976 book Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Growers Guide
written pseudonymously by Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna.

P.A.M., Frog Life (2017) hand-woven Moroccan wool rug

P.A.M.s woolly, woven Frog Life (2017) is also entertaining with Pepe the Frog in bikini drag
sprouting a fuzzy mushroom trilogy from its head. It as well cleverly inverts and perverts the scene in
Lewis Carrolls famous 1865 book Alices Adventures in Wonderland of a hookah-smoking caterpillar on a
mushroom beloved by pot heads everywhere.

Jeremy Shaws Kirlian photography piece Unseen Potential (Psilocybe Atlantis Sclerotia) (2013)
attempts to relay the mushroom experience from the inside, but I was not convinced it worked (though
it might look awesome as a blacklight poster in a college dorm room). Shaw captures on a photographic
plate electrical discharges from his thumb while he listens to music, creating a record of the electrical
energy of the moment.

So there is some slim, visual fun is to be found here, if you like mushroom shapes (and if so, do see Arik
Ropers paintings of magic mushrooms, which are not in the show). But there is nothing terribly avant-
garde, elusive, or enigmatic here. Subsequently, Champignons provides a pleasant but insufficient visual
metaphor for the strange otherness that mushrooms actually offer and embody.

Joseph Nechvatal