No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man Hits the Road!

Travels to include the Cincinnati Art Museum and Oakland Museum of California

A photograph of Sara Snyder
Sara Snyder
Head of External Affairs & Digital Strategies
January 18, 2019
An image of Foldhaus' mechanical mushrooms inside the Renwick Gallery.

FoldHaus Art Collective, Shrumen Lumen. Photo by Ron Blunt. 

Next week marks a bittersweet milestone, as the astonishingly popular, critically-acclaimed presentation No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man closes at the Renwick Gallery on January 21, 2019. The exhibition brought the large-scale, participatory work from the desert gathering to the nation’s capital, capturing the maker culture and creative spirit of this cultural movement. It also sparked a near doubling of the Renwick’s attendance, to 850,000 visitors, compared to the prior year.

Although No Spectators was not originally conceived with a tour in mind, and is easily the most complex exhibition the Renwick Gallery has ever organized, the museum made a surprise announcement that it will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum, with the first phase opening there on April 26. Like the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, the Cincinnati Art Museum offers free general admission, and the artworks from No Spectators will be shown both inside the museum and outdoors. The show will then travel to a second venue, the Oakland Museum of California, where it is scheduled to open on October 12, 2019.

“We are delighted to share No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man and send it to the Midwest and West Coast, where it will take on a different shape and surely delight visitors, who took joy and inspiration from our presentation in DC,” said Stephanie Stebich, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “There has been a remarkable level of interest in hosting this show from museums around the globe, which speaks to the extraordinary, international renown for what these innovative artists create and show in the desert.” She also expressed gratitude for having willing partners in Burning Man Project, a nonprofit public benefit corporation, whose close collaboration and assistance throughout the preparation of this exhibition and tour proved vital to its success.

Stebich expressed great disappointment in the fact that the Renwick Gallery was forced to close on January 2nd due to the partial federal government shutdown, which cut short the exhibition for visitors. “We really wish we could have celebrated the final weekend with our friends and supporters in Washington, DC,” she said. The museum was planning—but now has canceled—extended final weekend hours at the Renwick to send off the show with visitors and the local Burning Man community in the DC area. Even so, with museum attendance numbers comparable to the 2015 WONDER exhibition, and an outpouring of visitor and media enthusiasm, it is hard to look at the exhibition as anything other than an unqualified success.

The Renwick Gallery will keep David Best’s Temple, a specially-commissioned space for solace and reflection, on view in the museum’s Grand Salon through 2019. And for Virtual Reality users, the entirety of the No Spectators exhibition has been captured in 3D for perpetual exploration. It can be freely accessed via Sansar in VR and on desktop PCs, thanks to generous support from Intel, the exhibition’s lead sponsor.



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