David Best’s Temple

March 30, 2018 - January 5, 2020

Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)

“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.


  • David Best creates temples for Burning Man that are made of recycled wood and 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.

    DAVID BEST: My name is David Best. I’m an artist from Northern California. I’ve been building temples for about twenty years now. I’ve always done collaborative projects with people. I’m going to make a sacred space on the second floor of the Renwick and people are going to come who have lost sons and daughters and mothers and brothers and come and reflect on that loss and celebrate their lives rather than grieving. There are plenty of places for people to celebrate, and there’s not a hell of a lot of places for people to reflect on loss.

    The value of the temples is that they are temporary. It’s for those people that have had something really serious in their lives. The difference, of course is it’s not in the desert, but my intention is the same. It’s important that the temples are burned. I kind of shoot myself in the foot by doing that, because all my art, I don’t have any art, it’s all burnt. I have nothing to show for the last twenty years. I’m not that great of an artist that I can make a structure that’s going to last for a thousand years or 200 years. I think there’s a quality of a temporary temple is what is the most important part of it.

    In the temples like what we are making, no matter how much craftsmanship and finesse I put into it, it’s that person that comes and works on it that has no skill at all that puts the spirit in the project. That’s that invisible sacred. 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 out of their body gets to get it out. The temple is a nondenominational temple. It’s open to Republicans and Democrats, Atheists, and people with tattoos, and people with straight ties on. It’s a place where someone can go to be forgiven or to seek forgiveness or to seek solitude from grief.
  • Join artist David Best and his 'Temple Crew' as they discuss the ephemerality of the Burning Man temples and other site-specific work. Enjoy listening to the artist and his collaborators underneath the temple built specifically for No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.

  • The David Best's "Temple" Installation for No Spectactors: The Art of Burning Man. A month of work compressed in a minute and a half.

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