No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” at the Renwick Gallery

  • 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 neighborhood, bringing alive the maker culture and creative spirit of this cultural movement.

    NORA ATKINSON: “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” is one of the first major national surveys to look at the artworks that are being created in this incredible event that happens once a year in the Nevada Black Rock Desert.

    My name is Nora Atkinson. I’m The Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Because we are a major national institution that really is about telling the American story and that is open and free to the public, it seemed like in some ways a match made in heaven. This was a unique opportunity to look at Burning Man really as part of the American story as this creative laboratory that’s linked with maker culture, that’s linked with technology, that’s linked with many of the most innovative minds in our country and that is sort of an outside part of the art world that hasn’t been looked at before in a museum setting.

    Technology is a big part of this exhibition. Many of the artworks that once incorporated fire now incorporate LEDs. There’s a lot of works that are run by different technological means. There’s virtual reality on Playa, and there’s huge time-based installations. We are working with several of the artists that are perennial Burning Man artists to create new works for the museum. We are going to be placing six sculptures out in the neighborhood that people can go travel to, so this is literally the largest exhibition that our museum has ever put on. It’s the entire building and the neighborhood combined.

    The title, “No Spectators,” is part of that idea where we are inviting people to come in and, in some cases, they will be able to add to the artworks or interact with them physically, which is not something people usually get the chance to do in a museum. I really want this exhibition to be about bringing joy to people, and I want people to feel empowered. Burning Man is all about building the society that you want to live in and that’s what this exhibition is about.