From the desert to the museum: The Art of Burning Man

Burning Man is a cultural movement, a temporary city in the Nevada desert and “an experience in collective dreaming.” Each year, more than 70,000 participants from around the world gather in the dust of the Black Rock Desert outside Reno for seven days.

The Cincinnati Art Museum brought the visual art and artists of Burning Man to town in a sprawling exhibit that opened at the end of April.

“No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” includes giant mutant art vehicles, creative costuming, and immersive gallery-sized installations. It’s opening in two phases. The first opened April 26, and the second, which will unveil additional art throughout the museum, opens June 7. Both phases will close Sept. 2.


The exhibition explores the maker culture, ethos, principles, and creative spirit of Burning Man. The event is a hotbed of artistic expression and innovation, where enormous experimental art installations are erected and many ritually burned to the ground at the week’s end. The festival’s ethos comes from shared principles which value gifts, radical self-expression, and participation of those who attend, plus a reverence for the art created through innovation and community contributions.

“The Ten Principles support the notion that everyone is a radical artist, be radically involved, and radically celebrate who you are,” says David J. Brown, guest curator for the exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum. “The art that is created reflects this beautiful idea.”

In addition to the oversized sculptures, the exhibition will feature jewelry, video, and photography by artists and designers who participate in Burning Man. Ephemera, archival materials, and photographs are part of the companion exhibition “City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man,” organized by the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. It traces Burning Man’s origins from countercultural roots to the world-famous desert convergence it is today.


Visitors to the exhibition will experience works by contemporary artists Candy Chang, Marco Cochrane, Duane Flatmo, Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, Five Ton Crane Arts Collective, Scott Froschauer, Android Jones, and Richard Wilks, among others.


The exhibition was organized by Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; it debuted at the museum’s Renwick Gallery in spring 2018.

A variety of public programs will accompany the exhibition. Information is available on the museum’s website. The public can follow the museum’s social media accounts for exhibition updates and share their exhibition experiences with the hashtag #NoSpectators.

In keeping with the Burning Man principle of gifting, the exhibit is on view to the public for free. General admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is also free.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.