“Quirky.” “Lots of fun.” “Amazing.” I heard these remarks from friends who visited the Burning Man exhibit at the Renwick Gallery downtown. So I went too – and found it exhilarating.
Burning Man is an annual event located in the middle of the Black Rock desert of Nevada. It lasts a week, and brings a potpourri of “outsider art” people and participants who construct buildings, sculpture, and other unusual creations on the desert sand.
Burning Man was started in 1986 in San Francisco by what I would call a counter-culture group known as Cacophony. It is founded on ten principles, including inclusion (open to all), self reliance, community cooperation, participation, and self expression. Most of the creators there are not full-time artists. They may be dentists, handymen, engineers, you name it. In addition, many “burners” come to help out and participate in the experience.
Dragon in the desert
One of my favorite exhibits is this dragon, constructed of scrap aluminum (including a lot of muffin tins from thrift shops). The dragon has four bicycle wheels and moves when pedaled. Its head spits fire at night.
Not just jeans
Many “burners” bring a special costume or outfit that they have made and which they wear at times during the week.
In one room, five big mushrooms loom over you. They are 20 feet high, in changing colors. These are paper, fabricated using origami techniques, designed by two men from a design firm in San Francisco.
The center of Burning Man is a “temple,” contructed as “a sacred space” for peace and reflection. The elaborate design differs every year. It is made of plywood, and at the festival it is always burned down the last night. This is in keeping with the Burning Man philosophy of protecting the landscape and leaving no trace. Renwick, visitors walk into the inner room.
Go and see for yourself
This is just a sample of the creations on exhibit. You need to experience it yourself. “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” occupies the entire Renwick Gallery (at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW) through September 16th, when some works will make way for another exhibit. The rest of the exhibit will be on view through January 21th, 2019.
The Renwick is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and as it is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, admission is free. Here’s more information on planning your visit.