No Spec­ta­tors: The Art of Burn­ing Man

The Week (US) - - 26 Arts -

Ren­wick Gallery, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., through Jan­uary 2019 “Is Burn­ing Man the world’s most am­bi­tious art pro­gram?” asked Jes­sica Klin­gel­fuss in Wall­pa­per.com. The sum­mer festival that be­gan in 1986 as an im­promptu hap­pen­ing on a San Fran­cisco beach “has mu­tated in ex­tra­or­di­nary ways,” mov­ing to the Ne­vada desert in 1990 and grow­ing into a week­long bac­cha­nal. Each year it erects and dis­as­sem­bles a whim­si­cal tem­po­rary city of 70,000, charges $450 per ticket, draws celebri­ties and the Bay Area’s tech elite, and burns a 40-foot-tall hu­man ef­figy amid a swirl of drugs, sex, elec­tronic dance music, and nu­dity. Burn­ing Man is also al­ways an as­sem­blage of totemic sculp­ture and fan­tas­tic desert ve­hi­cles—of­ten lu­mi­nes­cent, usu­ally des­tined for de­struc­tion, and never bur­dened with a “Do not touch” sign. But can the art cast the same spell inside the coun­try’s old­est pur­pose-built art mu­seum? The new exhibition at the Smith­so­nian’s or­nate Ren­wick Gallery rep­re­sents “per­haps the most con­fi­dent bid yet to prove that it can.” To en­ter the show is to leave Wash­ing­ton be­hind, said Michael O’Sul­li­van in The Wash­ing­ton Post. A pro­ces­sional arch, de­signed by two festival reg­u­lars and cov­ered with ec­cen­tric bric-a-brac, “seems to whis­per as you pass through, ‘Toto, I’ve a feel­ing we’re not in Kansas any­more.’” Ahead lies Shru­men Lu­men, a “Lewis Car­roll–es­que” col­lec­tion of gi­ant, mul­ti­color mush­rooms cre­ated by the FoldHaus art col­lec­tive for 2016’s Burn­ing Man. Marco Cochrane’s Truth Is Beauty,a tow­er­ing danc­ing fe­male nude—18 feet tall here as op­posed to the 2015 orig­i­nal,

An in­stant trip to a dif­fer­ent headspace

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