No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man

The sculpture piece, Shrumen Lumen, at Burning Man at night lit up.

Each year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, a city of more than 70,000 people rises out of the dust for a single week. During that time, enormous experimental art installations are erected and many are ritually burned to the ground. The thriving temporary metropolis known as Burning Man is a hotbed of artistic ingenuity, driving innovation through its principles of radical self-expression, decommodification, communal participation, and reverence for the handmade. Both a cultural movement and an annual event, Burning Man remains one of the most influential phenomenons in contemporary American art and culture.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man brings the large-scale, participatory work from this desert gathering to the nation’s capital for the first time. The exhibition takes over the entire Renwick Gallery building and surrounding Golden Triangle neighborhood, bringing alive the maker culture and creative spirit of this cultural movement.


Immersive room-sized installations, costumes, jewelry, and ephemera transport visitors to the gathering’s famed “Playa,” while selected photographs and archival materials from the Nevada Museum of Art's show City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man trace Burning Man’s growth and its bohemian roots.

Nora Atkinson organized the exhibition in collaboration with Burning Man Project, the nonprofit organization responsible for producing the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City. The Burning Man community was instrumental in suggesting artworks for inclusion in the exhibition.

“‘No Spectators’ is a long-standing saying on Playa. You are encouraged to fully participate. It’s all about being there, being fully present, and not just observing. Two of the ten principles of Burning Man are radical participation and radical inclusivity, meaning that there are no outsiders. Everyone is part of the experience.”

– Nora Atkinson, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge, Renwick Gallery

Visiting Information

March 30, 2018 — January 212019 
Open Daily, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m
Free Admission

Tour Schedule

Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Washington, DC
March 30, 2018 January 21, 2019
Cincinnati Art Museum
Cincinnati, OH
April 26, 2019 September 2, 2019
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland, CA
October 12, 2019 February 16, 2020



No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Renwick Gallery especially thanks colleagues from Burning Man Project, a nonprofit public benefit corporation, for their close collaboration and assistance throughout the preparation of this exhibition.

Intel has provided generous financial and in-kind support as the lead sponsor of the exhibition.  Additional financial support has been provided by: the Carolyn Small Alper Exhibitions Fund, Anonymous, Sarah and Richard Barton, the Bently Foundation, the Diane and Norman Bernstein Foundation, The Bronner Family, the Elizabeth Broun Curatorial Endowment, DAWSON Companies, the James F. Dicke Family Endowment, Ed Fries, Ping Fu, the James Renwick Alliance, Nion McEvoy, Debbie Frank Petersen, Bobby Sarnoff, Albert H. Small, Myra and Harold Weiss, and Kelly Williams and Andrew Forsyth.

No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick, an installation of outdoor sculptures and related programming in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, is made possible by a collaboration with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District and support from Lyft.

City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man is organized by the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada. Most of the items on view are drawn from the archive collections of the Museum’s Center for Art + Environment. This exhibition was realized thanks to generous gifts from the Bently Foundation, Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, Maureen Mullarkey and Steve Miller, Eleanor and Robert Preger, the Private Bank by Nevada State Bank, Volunteers in Art of the Nevada Museum of Art, City of Reno, and Jan and David Hardie.

SAAM Stories

An image of Foldhaus' mechanical mushrooms inside the Renwick Gallery.
The Renwick Gallery announced that its popular exhibition, "No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man," will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California in 2019.
A photograph of Sara Snyder
Sara Snyder
Head of External Affairs & Digital Strategies
A picture of a woman touching the legs of a large sculpture piece at the Renwick Gallery.
“What would the world be like if women were truly safe?” This is the question Marco Cochrane challenges both male and female audiences to consider when viewing his sculpture "Truth is Beauty."
Miyah Powe
MTO Intern
A photo from outside the grand salon looking in at David Best's Temple
No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, opens on Friday, March 30, and features large-scale installations--the artistic hallmark of Burning Man--at the core of the exhibition. These include a temple designed for the Renwick's Grand Salon by David Best.
Libby Weiler
IT Specialist - External Affairs and Digital Strategies
David Best in front of his Temple at the Renwick Gallery.
David Best creates temples for Burning Man that are made of recycled wood that are ritually burned at the end of the annual festival. In this video Best discusses the Temple he created for the Renwick Gallery’s Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon, as a sacred space for people to reflect on loss.
A detail of one of Gelareh Alam's costumes at the Renwick Gallery.
In addition to the large-scale artworks currently being installed at No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, opening at the Renwick Gallery of Art on March 30, the exhibition features hand-made jewelry and clothing such as Iranian-born designer, Gelareh Alam's "warrior chic."
Libby Weiler
IT Specialist - External Affairs and Digital Strategies
This is a detail shot of one of the Shrumen Lumen mushrooms from Foldhaus.
What's going on behind-the-scenes at the Renwick Gallery? While the Renwick is closed, it's far from dark: artists are installing the large-scale works that will be a part of No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, opening on March 30.
Libby Weiler
IT Specialist - External Affairs and Digital Strategies
Burning Man, a fish-shaped work of art on the Playa

Eye Level spoke with Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, to learn more about her upcoming exhibition No Spectat

The museum team and artist working to assemble the dragon
Duane Flatmo's mutant vehicle, "Tin Pan Dragon," is not your average ride.
A photograph of Sara Snyder
Sara Snyder
Head of External Affairs & Digital Strategies

Online Gallery

Large-scale installations—the artistic hallmark of Burning Man—form the core of the exhibition. Individual artists and collectives featured in No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man include David Best, Candy Chang, Marco CochraneDuane FlatmoMichael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, Five Ton Crane Arts Collective, FoldHaus Art CollectiveScott Froschauer, HYBYCOZO (Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu), Android JonesAaron Taylor KuffnerChristopher SchardtRichard Wilks, and Leo Villareal.

Multiple installation sites have been selected throughout the Golden Triangle neighborhood surrounding the museum for No Spectators: Beyond the Renwickwhich includes works by Jack Champion, Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, HYBYCOZO, Laura Kimpton, Mischell Riley, and Kate Raudenbush.