Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man

Supporting artists and Burning Man Project with a charitable online auction

Sometimes the most unexpected combinations result in delightfully unanticipated flavors and unique experiences. In Fall 2021, Burning Man Project is taking its annual fundraising event global by co-producing a charitable online auction with Sotheby’s

Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man will introduce creative spirits around the world to the remarkable expressions of creativity that emerge from creators within, inspired by, and adjacent to Burning Man culture. Funds raised will directly support participating artists and Burning Man Project’s Art and Civic Engagement programs. 

The auction catalogue, released mid-September of 2021, features a genre-defying collection of sculptures, ephemera, experiences, costumes, mutant vehicles, and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) contributed by artists, collectors, and cultural instigators.

We’re emphasizing Radical Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity by inviting work by BIPOC artists, prioritizing inclusivity throughout the selection and sale process, and building patronage for artists who are doing vital work. Meet participating artists through our Boundless Space Artist Stories series.

All are welcome to explore the catalogue, get to know the artists, and participate in this one-of-a-kind online auction; many collectibles and ephemera will start at no minimum bid.

Boundless Space has the potential to bring about remarkable new cross-pollinations — attracting new artists and creative ideas to our community, while fostering new relationships and mentorships among artists, collectors, and art lovers.

You can read Burning Man and… Sotheby’s? An Interview With Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell over on the Journal to learn more about this collaboration:

(Image of “Rocket Car” by David Best, courtesy of the artist)

Take a virtual tour of the Boundless Space auction at Sotheby’s NYC:

Click the image to soothe your FOMO and virtually browse a 3D rendering of the wondrous art and lavishly decorated rooms at this week’s “Boundless Space” exhibit at Sotheby’s NYC (Courtesy of Erik Bryan Slavin)

“Boundless Space” Artist Series on the Journal

Our Boundless Space storytelling series introduces just a few of the astonishing artists who are contributing work to the upcoming Boundless Space: The Possibilities of Burning Man online auction. Work by 180 artists, many of whom emerge from underrepresented communities, will go on auction September 30 to October 8, 2021.

Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 1: Nourishing the Bloodstream of World Art (Image of “The Ramblers” by Víctor López)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 2: Channeling Radical Creativity Across Traditions & Disciplines (Image of Demond Melancon working on the apron for “Ethiopia” — photo courtesy of the artist)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 3: Fearlessly Reclaiming, Remapping & Inhabiting (Image of Nilofer & Shilo Shiv Suleman — photo courtesy of the artists)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 4: Expansiveness, Impermanence, and the Union of Opposites (Image of “Celestial Body” by Caitlin Mkhasibe — photo courtesy of the artist)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 5: Hearing the Script, Tracing the Melody Beneath Political Realities (Image of detail from “21 [Andy Akiho]” by Jakob Bokulich — photo courtesy of the artist)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 6: Living the Dream ~ Art as the Culmination of Who We Become (Image of “Swan Song (Leaving No Trace Was Just The Beginning)” by DA of Black Rock — photo courtesy of the artist)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 7: Drawing Through Grief and Destruction to New Beginnings (Image features a portion of “Reunion, Love and Hope, Waiting for the girls to leave the house” by Hani Abbas — courtesy of the artist)
Click the image to read “My Boundless Experience at Burning Man’s Charitable Auction” by Erin Douglas (Image courtesy of the author)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 8: Bringing the Big Art From Black Rock City” (Image of “R-Evolution” by Marco Cochrane, 2015 — Photo by John Chandler)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 9: How Harsha Durugadda Sculpts Synesthesia (Image of Harsha Durugadda in his studio — photo courtesy of the artist)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 10: A Journey of Discovery Across Continents and Disciplines (Image of “Siriusly” by Mario Moore)
Click the image to read “Boundless Space” Artist Stories Part 11: Suspension as Peak Experience with Benjamin Langholz (Image of “Stone 27” by Benjamin Langholz, 2019 — photo courtesy of the artist)


What is Boundless Space?

Burning Man Project is collaborating with Sotheby’s auction house to take our annual arts fundraiser global. The Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man online charitable auction will offer a diverse selection of artworks and experiences created by dreamers and doers from 22 countries within and beyond the global Burning Man community. The auction catalog is live here until the auction closes on October 8, 2021. It features robust content, not simply the auction’s featured artworks, but also stories, videos, and more about participating artists.

How can I bid on art in the auction? When is it open for bidding?

Boundless Space is an online auction open to anyone and everyone — including YOU. The auction will be open for bidding from 12pm EDT, Thursday, September 30, 2021 until 11am EDT, Friday, October 8, 2021. You can access the online auction here.

Why are we collaborating with Sotheby’s?

As we contemplate our role in celebrating and advancing artists, we see this collaboration with Sotheby’s as giving us new ground to test how we might bring increased visibility to our community and to expand awareness of artists within and beyond Burning Man, while raising much-needed funds for our nonprofit organization. Like many of our initiatives, this is an experiment. We are proceeding with caution and curiosity, and we expect to learn a lot from it.

What’s the backstory? How did this happen?

During Sotheby’s 2020 Hip Hop auction, New York artist and Burning Man Project board member Fab 5 Freddy approached Sotheby’s CEO with the idea of a collaboration to raise funds for Burning Man Project. This proposal led to an introduction to Burning Man Project founders, and an offer from Sotheby’s to co-produce a charitable auction for Burning Man Project. 

How will this auction benefit the Burning Man community?

Much like the No Spectators exhibition, Boundless Space is an opportunity to feature and celebrate the remarkable feats of imagination and creativity that emerge from Black Rock City and Burning Man culture. This project will:

  • Introduce new audiences to eclectic art and artists while sharing the mission and 10 Principles of Burning Man with art lovers around the world.
  • Create new opportunities for artists within and adjacent to the global Burning Man community, including an opportunity to sell their work.
  • Place an emphasis on inviting work by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists, and building patronage for living artists who are doing vital work.
  • Raise critical funds to support the nonprofit Burning Man Project, and in particular our Art and Civic Engagement programs.

What kind of art can we expect in Boundless Space?

Boundless Space will be highlighting art and experiences from Black Rock City artists and creators from around the world whose work aligns with the Burning Man community’s cultural values and 10 Principles. Offerings include:

  • Sculptures, paintings, and other artwork created by artists from 22 countries around the globe
  • One-of-a-kind experiences hosted by members of the extended Burning Man community
  • Mutant vehicles
  • Collectibles and ephemera from Burning Man events and creators
  • Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs)

*Burning Man Project and Sotheby’s are not auctioning tickets, camp placement, or experiences that relate to the next Burning Man event in Black Rock City.

Doesn’t this go against the community’s principle of Decommodification?

As a nonprofit, we’ve been producing the annual Artumnal Gathering art auction to raise funds for Burning Man Project Arts for many years. Traditionally this very successful annual event had limited reach. Sotheby’s opens up our fundraising efforts to the world; their auction platform, outreach, and client base have enabled us to bring many more artists on board, many who have never sold their art on the international market before, and bring Burning Man art and culture to new communities of art lovers.

As with all new endeavors and experiments, there are cultural considerations to take into account and we are navigating this opportunity with deep thoughtfulness. We love and celebrate the “art for art’s sake” mindset that many artists in the Burning Man community create from, and do not wish to introduce a profit motive for art in Black Rock City or in Burning Man spaces. 

At the same time, we support artists being able to make a living with what they create every day, and want to help nurture ways of making that possible. When this opportunity presented itself to us, we worked with Sotheby’s to design an auction that offered the best possible conditions for the participating artists. In addition to being a fundraiser for Burning Man Project, all participating artists have the option to keep a significant percentage of their works’ sale price. 

By collaborating with one of the world’s best known auction houses, we’re both helping to fund artists during a time when it’s badly needed, and encouraging patronage between art lovers and creators. This is not new to Burning Man culture; affluent Burners have quietly supported many of Black Rock City’s most beloved installations. As Larry Harvey wrote in the Journal leading up to the 2016 Da Vinci’s Workshop event: “…money isn’t moral. It is not inherently good, it is not irretrievably bad; it is like water as it tumbles in its pell-mell progress through our world. But money can be canalized by culture; it can be made to serve non-monetary values in a way that’s self-sustaining.”

Who are the artists in the auction and how were they selected?

The Boundless Space auction catalogue features a mix of works and experiences from many established and emerging artists who represent creative communities and traditions from around the world. Almost 40% of artists participating in Boundless Space identify as BIPOC, 40% identify as female, and they come from 22 countries. We collaborated with an advisory committee tasked with identifying and bringing artists and experience-creators on board as auction contributors. Committee members were selected for diversity, global perspective, familiarity with Burning Man culture, and knowledge of the contemporary art world. 

I’m an artist. Why wasn’t I invited to add my work to Boundless Space?

We know there are many artists in our community who would have been interested in participating and we hope to offer similar opportunities in the future. The response from artists was so overwhelmingly positive that the catalogue filled up pretty quickly. Contractually, working with Sotheby’s meant we were limited to including between 150 to 200 artists that together would bring in a minimum sale value at the auction. Within this number, it was very important to have diverse and global representation — a broad selection of work by women, BIPOC artists, and creators from around the world. Making sure artists’ stories were told and their work was documented in the catalogue, plus arranging shipping and other logistics was a herculean task for our small team.

How do the contributing artists / creators benefit?

  • Artists and other contributors have the option to receive a significant percentage of their work’s auction sale price.
  • Artists have a catalogue page that features their work, their artist statement, photos, and the option to link to their website. 
  • We hope to foster supportive, long-term patron / artist collaborations that ultimately contribute to the growth and evolution of art in Black Rock City and Burning Man culture globally.

Have all the pieces on auction been to Black Rock City?

In fact, only a few have been installed in Black Rock City. Some of the artwork and other pieces may be familiar to those who have visited Black Rock City. We intentionally sought out work from artists who have been to Black Rock City that reflects a different voice from what you may have experienced in the desert. Other art on auction is from artists around the world; many have never visited Black Rock City, but they all share the Burning Man principles and ethos.

What are NFTs? Why and how are you including them as part of the auction?

Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) can be described as digital artifacts — a tweet, a video of an epic moment, a digital artwork, etc. — that are “minted” on blockchain. They can be securely created, sold, and traded. We see the opportunity to include NFTs in the auction as an expression of the overall approach to innovation and the cultural impact of Burning Man.

Why is Burning Man Project fundraising?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to build Black Rock City in 2020 and 2021. The loss of ticket revenue has resulted in a financial shortfall for the organization. We’ve therefore been involved in various projects to raise funds that will help us maintain operations that will enable us to produce Black Rock City in 2022.

How can I get involved?

You can help us get the word out! Tell your art-loving friends about the auction. You’re also encouraged to safely host a Boundless Space event in your community to coincide with the live, online auction. If you happen to be in NYC October 2-6, drop by the exhibit and join us at an opening day celebration, community day, and gallery talk series at Sotheby’s NYC.

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Cover image: Milky Way beside the Man, 2019 (Photo by Vanessa Franking)