John Cage mushrooms go on show

John Cage mushrooms go on show


norman lebrecht

March 27, 2014

Fascinating exhibition coming up at the Horticultural Society of New York on the great mycologist and musical time-bomb. Announcement below.

john cage mushrooms

By leaves or play of sunlight

John Cage: Artist and Naturalist

April 2 – May 16, 2014

Opening Reception:

Wednesday, April 2nd, 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Curated by Chris Murtha

Presented with the John Cage Trust and the

New York Mycological Society

Nature was central to the visual art practice of pioneering composer John Cage (1912-1992). His materials included river rocks, smoke, and medicinal plants, and he found particular inspiration in the study of mushrooms and the writings of Henry David Thoreau. The centerpiece of this exhibition, which showcases Cage’s plant-inspired artworks, is Mushroom Book (1972), a portfolio of lithographs created with mycologist Alexander H. Smith and artist Lois Long. The show will also include prints that incorporate Thoreau’s journal sketches and selections from Edible Drawings(1990), a series of handmade papers made with ingredients from the artist’s macrobiotic diet.

Download the press release (PDF), which is written as a mesostic poem, a form that Cage used throughout his career, including in Mushroom Book.



  • Mike Gibb says:

    At Operabase, we get to hear about a LOT of strange, rare, new opera (in 13/14, about 700 of them .., but one of my favourite odd subjects ever was John Cage and mushrooms.

    The one-act intermezzo ‘Boletus’ by Carlo Boccadoro tells the story of how Umberto Eco and Luciano Berio wangled Cage onto a Italian TV quiz, answering questions on mushrooms, in an attempt to get him enough prize money for a flight home.

    Italian readers can follow the story here:

  • Christy says:

    @Mike Gibb,

    I hope you don’t mind a couple of questions unrelated to John Cage and his mushrooms. The link you’ve suggested is excellent. Thank you. I wonder if there’s any way to separate out operas that had their premieres in the last several years. There seems to be a constant question about the state of new opera, so I would find this interesting.

    Also, I know of at least several new operas premiered by smaller companies. I am assuming these companies don’t register on or with Operabase.?

    • Mike Gibb says:

      World premieres are only a small part of the state of new opera — if I was allowed only one criterion I would make it how many operas are getting subsequent productions.

      There’s a list of the world premieres at the end of the page for each season. This will give you a quick, rough-and-ready list for the past few years. I love playing with opera statistics (did you know that more than half of the opera composers programmed over the last 5 years are living?), so if you want something more specific, just ask (here, if it’s going to be of general interest, or perhaps directly at if it’s more specialised?)

      I’d like to hear about any premieres that we have missed — it’s often surprisingly hard work to get information out of companies (especially small ones). The situation has recently got much better as the music publishers have started to swing behind our efforts, but there’s a lot more out there …