The psychedelic stylings of Burning Man will be reaching a wider audience with the installation of No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. Visitors can enjoy photographs, sculptures, and interactive installations from the annual festival, usually just ephemera, only a stones-throw away from the White House.
The challenges of translating a massive outdoor festival (where sculptures are designed to be burnt to the ground at the end) to a museum setting wasn’t lost on the curators. Art cars and sculptures, some originally on display on the Playa and others commissioned for the show, jewelry, and even experiences–through VR–in an institutional setting reveals an underlying tension between the disposable, freewheeling nature of Burning Man and the typically more stoic nature of museum exhibitions.
Large-scale installations in the gallery form the heart of the show, but the Renwick has partnered with Golden Triangle Business Improvement District to spread six outdoor pieces throughout the neighborhood. From March 30 through December 2018, residents can spy:
- The enormous bronze head of Maya Angelou (Maya’s Mind by Mischell Riley),
- A 14-foot-tall bear made of pennies (Ursa Major by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson),
- An abandoned tech temple (Future’s Past by Kate Raudenbush),
- Enormous bronze crows (Untitled by Jack Champion),
- A 3-dimensional, laser-cut “gem” that diffuses light from within (Golden Spike by HYBYCOZO),
- And a monumental metal “XOXO” sculpture (XOXO by Laura Kimpton with Jeff Schomberg).
No Spectators will put multiple large installations front and center, many of which were commissioned specifically for the show, including a temple from sculptor David Best. Despite taking place in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Burning Man has always had a heavy architectural and planning component to the festivities. Technically complicated pavilions and temples go up every year, such as 2018’s digitally fabricated Galaxia, and the temporary city that houses 70,000 residents every year serves as a proving ground for radical urban planning ideas.
No Spectators sprung partially from the desire to spread the Burning Man gospel, as organizers admit to the Times, as well as the opportunity to tap a wellspring of previously un-exhibited work. For the Smithsonian’s part, the museum has committed to upholding the festivals’ ideals, having kept corporate logos away from the art, hiring local “burners” to help patrons appreciate the pieces, and commissioning a history of the festival to contextualize the works.
No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man will run from March 30 through January of 2019.