Mushrooms have had bad PR for decades. They’re either the grey coagulated slop in cheap supermarket soup or dream fuel for all the dreadlocked white guys you tried to avoid at university. But perceptions are changing, sometimes literally.
Mycophilia is the love of mushrooms, and it’s blooming. Mushrooms are now recognised for the important role they play in maintaining the planet’s biodiversity, for their nutritional value, and for their psychedelic powers. The little spore-bearing blobs have been a big deal in art for centuries, and this show is a little trip into the cultural significance of fungi.
Look at this three-room show as an introduction to mushrooms in art, science and design. The walls are dotted with statements about stems and caps and gills, facts and figures about mycelial networks and how DNA profiles show mushrooms to be closer to animals than plants.
But most of the show is art. Amanda Cobbett’s incredibly intricate little sculptures are stunning, Hamish Pearch’s resin constructions emerge creepily and hauntingly from burnt toast and stacks of paper, Beatrix Potter’s illustrations are lovely, obsessive things. There’s a lot of interesting, good stuff here. But what’s it telling you about mushrooms? About their importance, significance, impact? Not a lot, really, other than people really like mushrooms.
The problem is that by being about art, design and science, it ends up being not enough of anything. It would work so much better either focused on just one of those topics, or if it was a bigger, bolder, more in-depth show about all three. As it is, it’s not much of anything.
You end up wanting more: you wish the galleries were darker, smellier, more humid and mushroomy, you wish there was more information, more knowledge, more of everything. It’s an interesting little show, but there’s mush-room for improvement.