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The Art Of Burning Man Looks Amazing Inside The Smithsonian

Every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, tens of thousands of people assemble for a hot, dust-covered, drug-filled, creative explosion that includes dozens of sprawling art installations. And as the celebration comes to a close, many artists burn their own creations, taking any ashy remaining remnants with them on their way out–because Burning Man isn’t a permanent art exhibit. It’s an ephemeral experience designed to never leave a trace.

Until now, that is. The best of Burning Man is coming to the Smithsonian for anyone to experience–no dust goggles or potable water supply required. Until January 21, 2019, the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in D.C. will be featuring No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. It’s a collection of medium- and large-scale sculptures, rescued from the desert and placed on display.

Marco Cochrane, Truth Is Beauty, 2013. [Photo: Scott London/courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum]
Selections include pieces like FoldHaus’s Shrumen Lumen, which are giant origami mushrooms that light up and respond to the presence of humans, and Richard Wilks’s Evotrope, which is a quirky, Playa-approved transportation system that’s one-part bike, one-part zoetrope cartoon. But the exhibit’s pièce de résistance seems to be Truth Is Beauty, a 55-foot-tall stainless steel geodesic mesh woman by Marco Cochrane. Inside the 1859 building, the pieces take on an almost Rococo vibe, adding their trippy, futuristic detail to the grandiosity of the space.

The exhibit’s name itself comes from Burning Man’s “no spectators” policy, which urges everyone to be fully present in the experience, not removed as a critic or judge. It’s hard to imagine how that philosophy could fully translate to an art gallery, but perhaps just being around so many Burning Man creations is enough to inspire the visitor to let loose a little, and embrace art with a truly open mind, rather than as a spectator.

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