No Spectators to show the art of Burning Man at the Oakland Museum of California
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No Spectators to show the art of Burning Man at the Oakland Museum of California

A travelling exhibition, No Spectators will take its final stop in California - the origin of the much celebrated Burning Man – exploring its roots in creating a meaningful society.

by Zohra Khan Oct 11, 2019

The Burning Man today is a force to reckon with. What started in 1986 as a casual burning of a human effigy on San Francisco’s Baker Beach by Larry Harvey and Jerry James, pulling a curious crowd of around 35 people, has over the years seen the landscape of the mighty burn and its spectators multiply tremendously, making it one of the most celebrated and influential art events across the globe.

Aerial photograph of Black Rock City taken by an unknown photographer, 1996| No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
Aerial photograph of Black Rock City taken by an unknown photographer, 1996 Image Credit: Collection of Nevada Museum of Art. Center for Art + Environment Archive Collections. Gift of Michael Mikel

Nearly 70,000 people gather every year for the week-long tryst in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, creating an ephemeral metropolis in the dust, called the Black Rock City. Participants include architects, designers, artists, and enthusiasts alike who build the city together with theme camps, impromptu performances and experimental art installations. While some works get ritually burned to the ground and others dismantled, they often become centrepieces of inspiration for the larger community.

Photograph by Stewart Harvey of the first Burning Man held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, 1990 | No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
Photograph by Stewart Harvey of the first Burning Man held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, 1990 Image Credit: Stewart Harvey

Illuminating the event’s origin, its culture of experimentation as well as creativity, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) announced No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, an adaptation of the original exhibition organised by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, in collaboration with Burning Man Project.

Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, The Paper Arch, 2018 | No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, The Paper Arch, 2018 Image Credit: Ron Blunt

No Spectators, set to open on October 12, 2019, at the OMCA, will bring immersive artworks, sculptures and installations from the Burning Man over the years. The installations will go beyond the gallery walls to take over outdoor public spaces, giving visitors the same experience for which the work was originally created. Through the medium of these art interventions and a series of collaborative programs with community artists, the platform will highlight the core values of Burning Man and its 10 guiding principles, which include radical inclusion, de-commodification, radical self-expression, communal effort, and leaving no trace.

Scott Froschauer,Ten Principles, 2017 | No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
Scott Froschauer, Ten Principles, 2017 Image Credit: Scott Froschauer

From a garden of five origami mushrooms titled Shrumen Lumen, whose caps expand and contract from a flat umbrella portobello to a bulbous cap when visitors activate them to the luminous Inner Orbit, whose laser cut polyhedrons cut in intricate patterns create spectacular shadows – the palette of works is as much experiential as it is aesthetically alluring. Another interesting work from the exhibition include The Paper Arch - a large scale installation that evokes the symbolic threshold participants cross as they enter the Burning Man.

  • HYBYCOZO, Trocto (2014) and Inner Orbit: Lvov (2017) | No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
    HYBYCOZO, Trocto (2014) and Inner Orbit: Lvov (2017) Image Credit: Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, photography by Leigh Vukov
  • FoldHaus, Shrumen Lumen, 2016 | No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
    FoldHaus, Shrumen Lumen, 2016 Image Credit: Ron Blunt

From access to the local sites where previously Burning Man art was created to invite people to experience larger than life installations in the dark of the night, No Spectators will give visitors a peek into the festival’s roots and its deep connection with California and the Bay Area by creating a melting pot of art that will speak for itself. Beyond the interactive activities, a series of conversations with various artists and founders of Burning Man will offer perspectives on art, creativity, and building a city in the dust. 

Photograph by Leo Nash of the Man following its construction in the San Francisco Bay Area,1995| No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man | Oakland Museum of California | STIRworld
Photograph by Leo Nash of the Man following its construction in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1995 Image Credit: Collection of Nevada Museum of Art. Center for Art + Environment Archive Collections. Gift of Michael Mikel

A companion event titled City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man organised by the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno will trace the festival’s origins from its counter-cultural roots in the San Francisco Bay Area to the distinguished desert gathering that it is today.

The exhibition opens at the OMCA on October 12, 2019, and will continue to be on view till February 16, 2020.

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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