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Former Walker Director Martin Friedman Remembers Mushroom Adventures With John Cage

A mushroom.PHOTO BY DUNCAN BROWN

A mushroom.

DUNCAN BROWN

As part of its 75th-anniversary celebrations, Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center is running on its website unpublished writings by Martin Friedman, who directed the museum from 1961 to 1990 and made it into one of the most progressive institutions for contemporary art in the country. The articles are awesome. One published this week concerns John Cage’s many visits to the Twin Cities. Here’s an excerpt having to do with the composer’s love for mushroom hunting and analysis:

When word got out that John was staying with us we would find bags of mushrooms at our front door for several days. The offerings, I might add, were undocumented so who knew what was inside. John went through the bags in a businesslike fashion. After all, he had supported himself in the 1960s as a mycologist for the Four Seasons restaurant, so he knew precisely what he was doing—except for one occasion, he told me, when he bit into the wrong thing and found himself leaning against a tree trunk and watching his life acted out before him. No such fate awaited us because as John briskly worked his way through the bag of mushrooms, he said, “This one would kill you in 10 minutes.” By the time the sorting was complete, these offerings were added to those we had dug out ourselves and put into a frying pan which contained oil and which John had salted liberally.

Friedman also discusses Cage’s eccentric eating habits and a reconciliation between Cage and sculptor Tony Smith that was facilitated by Finnegan’s Wake.

Lots of good stuff. Enjoy.

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