From the dusty, windswept flats of the playa come the visions and artistry of the cultural provocateurs behind Burning Man.
Aerial view of Burning Man’s Black Rock City.
Since March of this year, artworks of the cultural phenomenon Burning Man have been adorning both the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery (americanart.si.edu), as well as the streets of Washington, as part of the exhibition No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.
If you haven’t yet seen it, that window of opportunity is closing fast. The first-floor exhibition shuttered in September, but the second floor, featuring works by David Best, FoldHaus Art Collective, Aaron Taylor Kuffner, HYBYCOZO (Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu), Christopher Schardt and Leo Villareal, is on view through January 21. The outdoor installations making up No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick, meanwhile, will be in downtown Washington through December.
“Shrumen Lumen” by FoldHaus
For the uninitiated, Burning Man is equal parts experiential movement and temporary city of more than 70,000 people that rises annually like a phoenix out of the dust for a single week in late summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. During that time, impressively large-scale and detailed installations are erected. Many are ritually burned. Others, like those in No Spectators, find new life in museums and galleries.
In a country of chain stores and commercialism, the desert gathering is a uniquely American amalgamation of artistic ingenuity and craftsmanship that drives innovation through its philosophies of radical self-expression, community participation, rejection of commodification and reverence for the handmade. That expression can be seen not only through large-scale installations, but also via art cars, bikes and individual fashion and ornamentation.
HYBYCOZO’s “Deep Thought”
“The scale, the communal effort and the technical challenges inherent in creating works for the desert are part of what sets Burning Man apart from other art experiences,” says Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “It is an amazingly creative laboratory where innovators go to play and to push the boundaries of their craft.” Like the festival itself, the exhibition will soon pack up and dissipate like a sand painting, so get your burn on now.
Photography by: AERIAL PHOTO BY SCOTT LONDON; “DEEP THOUGHT” & “SHRUMEN LUMEN” PHOTOS BY RON BLUNT