David Best’s Temple

March 30, 2018 - January 5, 2020

Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)
An image of David Best's Temple inside the Grand Salon at the Renwick Gallery.

David Best, Temple, 2018. Photo by Ron Blunt.

“For me, craftsmanship is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that the person that has something to get out of their soul and their body gets to get it out.” -David Best

David Best’s Temple transforms the Renwick Gallery’s Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon into a glowing sanctuary, offering visitors a quiet place to reflect and pay tribute to lost loved ones. Originally part of the exhibition No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, this site-specific installation covers the walls with intricately carved raw wood panels that lead to an ornate altar. Wooden placards are provided for visitors to write a personal message and leave within the installation. Best’s Temples are an integral part of the annual desert gathering, so much so that exhibition curator Nora Atkinson stated “I don’t know if I would have done this show if I couldn’t have David in it.”

Burning Man, one of the most influential events in contemporary art, is both a cultural movement and a thriving temporary city of more than 70,000 people that rises out of the dust for a single week each year in late summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. During that time, enormous experimental art installations are erected, some of which are then ritually burned to the ground. The desert gathering is a uniquely American hotbed of artistic ingenuity, driving innovation through its philosophies of radical self-expression, community participation, rejection of commodification and reverence for the handmade.

Since 2000, David Best has designed and coordinated the construction of approximately half of the Burning Man temples. Established as sacred spaces of reflection and prayer, all of these have been massive, incredibly intricate, wooden structures. During the week of Burning Man, the Temples are adorned by participants with memorials and inscriptions. The structure is burned in a cathartic ritual to inspire healing and community.

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

On the Blog

Eye Level, April 20, 2018, “The Renwick's (David) Best Temple
Eye Level, March 27, 2018, “Sneak Peek: Burning Man's Temple at the Renwick