Can the art of Burning Man be taken out of its playa context and successfully presented in a museum setting? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Using photographs and videos for context, large scale sculpture, material culture, mutant vehicles, jewelry, and costumes have been shown to the public beyond Burning Man, spreading our ethos even further out into the world.
Burning Man has presented three art exhibitions since 1998: two featuring art installations, photographs, and video, and one focusing on neon. From a curatorial point of view, showing Burning Man art can be difficult, as many of the installations created on the playa have been burned and are available to us only in photographs, and the scale of much of the work is prohibitive. However, we’ve managed to show actual art from the playa as well as other work our artists have created.
Our first exhibit was The Art of Burning Man at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery, July 29 to August 29 1998. The second was an updated version of The Art of Burning Man at Theater Bruka in Reno, July 9 to 31, 1999. Our third exhibit, at the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles, took place from December 11, 1999 through March 12, 2000 and was curated by LadyBee.
In addition, six independent arts organizations have staged exhibitions of Burning Man art. In the summer of 2001, the Sonoma Museum of Visual Art showed six large-scale outdoor sculptures, and in 2007, the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno showed A Tribe of Artists: Costumes and Culture of Burning Man, Geoffrey Nelson’s photographs and costumed mannequins.
In 2017, three museum shows took place:
Playa Made: Jewelry of Burning Man, guest curated by LadyBee and based on the book of the same name, debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts; this exhibit was shown from February 11 through June 4, 2017. WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate, nicely reviewed the exhibit.
Virginia’s Hermitage Museum showed Burning Man art from June 3 through October 14.The concept for the show originated with the Hermitage’s Executive Director Jen Duncan in 2015. “I think that Burning Man is an incredibly powerful way for people with shared passions to connect whether it’s through art, music, religion, or other ideas,” Duncan said. “The festival removes any barrier from the experience, makes it more interactive, with fewer rules constraining the visitor and the artist. The art created at Burning Man is only available for a limited time each year, and I believe that it can stand on its own and should be displayed in the museum setting as well.” Read more about it in the Burning Man Journal and in the Virginian Pilot.
The Nevada Museum of Art showed its archival exhibit, City of Dust, The Evolution of Burning Man from July 1, 2017 through January 7, 2018. The show grew out of Danger Ranger’s gift of his extensive personal archives to the NMA’s Center for Art and Environment, where curators William Fox and Anne Wolfe developed the exhibit, working with Burning Man. They created a documentary, and several Burning Man staff members delivered presentations on the art and culture of Burning Man. We were also featured in the Center’s annual conference, Art and Environment, October 19-21, 2017. The exhibit was reviewed in Moonshine Ink.
In 2018, part of the NMA exhibit travelled to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. as part of the Renwick Gallery’s major exhibit, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. Opening on March 30, 2018, this important exhibit explores the art, mutant vehicles, jewelry, costumes and photography of Burning Man, as well as our history and ethos; the Renwick’s curator Nora Atkinson worked closely with Burning Man to develop the exhibit. In addition, six sculptures from the playa will be shown throughout the surrounding neighborhood in an outdoor extension of the exhibit, No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick. Programming includes a gala opening, a “Meet the Artists” event in the galleries, and presentations by several staff members.