Art History

Burning Man is renowned for its fantastical, massive and ambitious artworks — and yet, this seems to fly in the face of logic, given the challenges inherent in creating art for one of the most remote, forbidding and inhospitable environments on Earth. So how has it come to be that in Burning Man’s history on the Black Rock Desert, artists have consistently pushed themselves to create ground-breaking and mind-blowing art that (for the most part) will only be seen by a subset of a self-selected audience for a single week of the year?

Big Rig Jig by Mike Ross and crew (photo by Gabe Kirchheimer)

Big Rig Jig by Mike Ross and crew (photo by Gabe Kirchheimer)

Artists coming to Black Rock City enjoy the rare opportunity to create artwork for a truly blank canvas, far from would-be critics, immune to market forces, independent of curators, gallery owners and collectors, and — perhaps most importantly — to be shared with an adoring and appreciative audience. In other words, this is their chance to express themselves as they truly desire, from the heart, unfettered by constraint. Add to this the lack of liability (thanks to the exculpatory language on one’s Burning Man ticket and the community’s agreement to embrace self-reliance), and opportunities for interactive participation in artworks abound.

Simultaneously, starting in 2001, the Burning Man organization worked to bring interactive, civic-minded artwork to the world outside of Black Rock City through the Black Rock Arts Foundation (now Burning Man Arts). This has served to enable more people to enjoy more artwork in more places around the world.

Take some time to delve into the rich art history of Burning Man.