“…ideas are to be found in the same way that you find wild mushrooms in the forest, by just looking.”

John Cage

 

Among the many books to which John Cage contributed, this book is unique for combining two of Cage’s abiding interests – his interest in the role of chance in the making of art and his interest in mushrooms, which began in the 1950s. Cage co-founded the New York Mycological Society in 1962 with Lois Long and two other friends. Long, one of Cage’s collaborators in this book, was a textile designer who also helped Cage teach a class on mushroom identification at the New School for Social Research. Cage’s other collaborator in this book was Alexander H. Smith, one of the foremost experts in the field of mycology during the 20th century.

This interesting volume consists of ten folios of deckled Arches paper and ten sheets of translucent Japanese Kitakata, which are tucked inside each folio. On the first page of each folio is a lithograph featuring Cage’s handwritten poetry, maps, and sketches using superimpositions of five graded black lithographic pencils. As he often did to create his art, Cage used the Chinese I Ching system of chance operations to determine the visual presentation of the writing in these lithographs. The inserted translucent sheets within each folio feature transcriptions of Cage’s lithographs and scientific information written by Smith about the mushrooms that Long illustrated on the third page of each folio. Long’s color lithographic botanical illustrations are greater than life size and feature 15 different species of mushrooms. This large, loose-as-issued book is housed in a denim-covered portfolio with a cloth tie closure.

This book was the focus of an exhibition of Cage’s work at the Horticultural Society of New York in 2014 entitled By Leaves or Play of Sunlight, John Cage: Artist and Naturalist.  Copies of the book are held in a wide variety of institutions both here and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art.

This copy is numbered A.P. IV out of an edition of 75 with ten artist proofs and five presentation proofs. Each print by Cage and Long is signed and numbered in pencil by the respective artist.

 

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