The First Weekend At The Burning Man In Washington Exhibit
The Burning Man event happens every summer in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. A complete city is built out of nothing. And at the end, the desert is returned to its natural state. Nothing is left behind. Burning Man is an artistic and cultural event where everyone is encouraged to fully immerse themselves. This founding principle is the name for this exhibit that lets you experience Burning Man in Washington DC at the Renwick Gallery – “No Spectators”. The Renwick Gallery Smithsonian American Art Museum is a branch of the Smithsonian. The exhibit provides a great look into the art of Burning Man in 14 exhibits commissioned from Burning Man artists.
We were in Washington DC for a long, long weekend over Easter. There was a long list of things to see and do. But top of our list was to visit the Burning Man in Washington exhibit on the opening morning. We were so glad that our fellow travel blogger Nicki strongly recommended this show. It was a good idea to arrive early before the crowds really descended. And we were so happy we visited!
Let us share just a little of the artistry of Burning Man that we saw. We can in no way capture the spirit that must exist when this city rises in the desert. We understood a little more about the concept of “No Spectators” when we left.
Arriving At The Renwick Gallery
We arrived at the Renwick Gallery just after the doors opened for the first time to the public. There was a small line up when we arrived. But by the time we exited, every room of the exhibit was crowded. There was a walking tour forming up outside the Renwick to see the outdoor sculptures that are part of of the exhibit. We took the walking tour map and did it on our own after we explored inside. There was no admission charge for the exhibit.
We stopped as we entered the museum to admire the massive chandelier. The LED chandelier on the Grand Stair is called “Volume”. It was installed when the museum underwent renovations in 2015. This set the tone for discovery as we started to wander the rooms of the exhibit.
The Burning Man
In the centre of the Burning Man site there is a 40 foot high statue of Man. At the end of the week, the Man burns in a huge fire display. When the co-founder of Burning Man (Crimson Rose) was asked why the Man is burned, he responded “So we can build him again.” It is a symbol of letting go.
When you experience Burning Man in Washington, you will find one room with a large wooden Man. Around the exhibits are various posters explaining the process and meaning. Videos also played that showed the burning ritual.
Messages In The Temple
Tied closely to the ritual of the burning man is the visit to the Temple. The Temple at the Burning Man site is a place for reflection and healing. People leave moving and very personal messages around the walls of the Temple. At the end of the week, the Temple too is burned.
At the Renwick Washington exhibit, they have re-created the inside of the Temple in the Grand Salon. Every wall is a different section of intricate light wooden displays. Hanging in the centre of the hall was a massive hanging sculpture.
As we entered the room we found white cards and were invited to put our own personal message on the walls. As we wandered around, we could see the first set of messages that had been left on this opening day.
When you experience Burning Man in Washington, don’t forget to leave something behind!
The Principles of Burning Man
There are 10 principles that guide the Burning Man experience. You can see them on the signpost display. They are listed in full at this link.
When you experience Burning Man in Washington, the one principle that we saw overwhelmingly displayed was that of radical self-expression. We saw it in the art, costumes, jewellery and creativity. The other key principle brought out by the exhibit title of “No Spectators” is that of participation and inclusivity. Burning Man is all about community for all.
3D Art Engaged You
Several rooms had large exhibits that drew you with 3D art, light and shadows. We saw many people mesmerized. People moved from spot to spot to see the art from a different angle. Or to place themselves in the art. They became a living part of the art displays.
One room had three large structures with cut out patterns. Lights shone from inside and out so that patterns formed around the room. One was suspended so that the patterns moved as it spun.
The Shrumen Lumen mushroom room was one of my favourites. This display created by the FoldHaus Art Collective included 3 mushroom shaped pieces that moved and blossomed with technicolour changing lights. If we stood on the designated spot, the sculpture began its dance. As the sculptures moved, we heard this most interesting cracking sound.
One room provided a chance to lie down and relax. Cushions were arranged in the middle of the room under a ceiling display. The video cycled through a kaleidoscope of images that entranced the people as they watched.
On the main floor we found a large arch that looked like it was made from paper mâché. When we looked close, we saw cutout sections with dioramas. The columns included peepholes. When we looked through, we got an interesting view to the eye on the peephole on the other side.
It was hard not to experience Burning Man in Washington and not be drawn into interacting with the 3D art exhibits.
Creativity In Costume Design
One full exhibit room highlighted the creativity that people applied to the costumes of Burning Man. The previous night as we wandered around Washington DC, we saw several different people dressed in the most abstract costumes. When we arrived at the Renwick exhibit, we finally understood that these people had attended the opening gala for the exhibit the night before.
We stopped to admire the intricate work on the Nagana Brass Gown (by Jungle Tribe) and the Cocoon Gown (by Gelareh Alam and Sophis Constance). The Peaceful Warrior headdress was another intricate piece of costume art.
There were displays that showed other examples of the individuality shown in the costumes that people wore to the Burning Man.
We found the costumes to be quite fascinating. It is an exhibit not to be missed when you experience Burning Man in Washington. However, I must admit that I could not imagine wearing this much clothing in the middle of the desert in the summer!
Larger Than Life
The large wire framed woman suspended in one gallery kept us entranced. This display by Marco Cochrane was called Truth is Beauty. Lights changed colour as they lit this sculpture from different angles. Shadows moved over the walls and ceilings.
If the artistically posed woman was light and delicate, the Tin Pan Dragon was the opposite. Built of metal it was a bit of a menacing display. It seemed to be keeping watch on the crowd.
If you wanted to feel like you were experiencing Burning Man, there was even a virtual reality setup. It was a big hit with the children. This would certainly entice the next generation of Burning Man attendees.
Be prepared for larger than life displays when you experience Burning Man in Washington. Take them in from different angles. Watch the light change your perspective.
Beyond The Renwick
We didn’t just limit ourselves to the exhibits in the main gallery. There was a walking tour and we toured multiple other artistic pieces in the neighbourhood. We didn’t see them all but there was a variety of sculptures I didn’t want to miss.
Our first stop was at Maya’s Mind. The face represented Maya Angelou, an African American poet, singer and activist. The detailed 20 foot face carving sat on 3 books high above the sidewalk. It seemed to look down at the spectators below. The artist Mischell Riley chose this sculpture as a way to promote women in history.
Our next stop was Jack Champion’s untitled sculpture of a pair of crows. The crows looked like they were squawking at the crowd that gathered when the artist arrived to talk about this piece of work. Jack Champion explained that his name for the piece was “Attempted Murder”. Only “attempted” because three or more crows are required for it to be a murder of crows.
As we moved about, we could see the crow sculptures seemed to interact with the Washington cherry blossoms just starting to sprout. This was just one of the interesting spots we found cherry blossoms that highlighted the neighbourhoods of Washington DC.
Our final stop was at the XOXO display by Laura Kimpton with Jeff Schromberg. When I saw it on the map, I thought about hugs and kisses. We almost missed this silver metal display as it blended into the building behind it.
The weather for our long weekend in Washington was highly variable. Dark clouds threatened rain again, so we quit after seeing the first 3 of 6 outdoor exhibits. If you experience Burning Man in Washington, plan the time to follow the outdoor walking path. There are guided tours once a day.
Don’t Miss The Chance To Experience Burning Man in Washington DC
We had lots of things planned on our long weekend in Washington. But we were so glad we had the chance to experience Burning Man in Washington. It was opening weekend and we were sure that this will be a great success. We are thankful to the artists that contributed to the Burning Man No Spectators exhibit and happy that the Renwick Gallery encouraged pictures.
The artistic creativity on display was inspiring. It gave us a quick glimpse into what it might be like to head into the desert for Burning Man. But I must admit I am still not convinced that I will go to the real event. So I was very glad to gett a chance to experience it from afar.
Did you experience Burning Man in Washington DC? Did this entice you to experience Burning Man in the desert?
PIN To Pinterest: