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Freedom in the Desert: Why the Arts Flourish at Burning Man

by Megan Nauer, Marketing & Communications Coordinator


burning man , black rock desert , nevada , No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man offers many opportunities for Cincinnati area explorers of all ages to come together and experience cutting-edge artwork. Phase II of the exhibition, opening June 7, features (among others) HyBycozo, a large scale installation that explores the intersections of math, technology and materials using light and shadow to experiment with perception. Experience it at the Cincinnati Art Museum this summer to become part of this worldwide network of engagement.

Want to understand more about the inspiration behind the radical artmaking associated with Burning Man? Here’s my take on the elements that combine to create the perfect storm of creativity:

Every August in Nevada’s inhospitable Black Rock Desert, a thriving metropolis rises from the playa dust for a single week. This phenomenon, known as Burning Man, has generated a great deal of boundary-expanding, often heavily participatory art.

Those who view and hear of the artworks from afar might wonder what drives makers to build such elaborate labors of passion for an event that is so ephemeral, temporary by design. Much of the artwork never leaves the playa and lives on only in shared memory. For many, this is part of the challenge and the joy.

There are many nuanced motivations at play. As the Burning Man Project’s website puts it: “Artists coming to Black Rock City enjoy the rare opportunity to create artwork for a truly blank canvas, far from would-be critics, immune to market forces, independent of curators, gallery owners and collectors and—perhaps most importantly—to be shared with an adoring and appreciative audience.”

This particular audience and the credo they embrace is certainly important among the factors that make this experience unique and appealing for artists and creators. “Radical Self-expression,” “Participation,” and “Immediacy” are three of the 10 Principles of Burning Man.

Factor in that those entering the playa are also primed to embrace the principle of Radical Self-Reliance, which urges Burners to “discover, exercise and rely on…inner resources” and one creates a crowd ready to explore and engage. Taking this a step further, tickets to Burning Man are printed with language releasing artists from liability related to public interaction with their artwork, breaking down yet another barrier to uninhibited creative exploration.

Since 2001, Burning Man Arts (formerly the Black Rock Arts Foundation) has been working to bring some of this sense of limitless creativity to participants outside of Black Rock City. From Reno, Nevada to as far-flung as Valencia, Spain, many locales have embraced pieces once featured on the playa. Art installations have traveled temporarily to other festivals, gone on display in museums, and entered many cities as public art in outdoor spaces.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is honored to feature some of these artworks and aspires to give visitors a small taste of the freedom in the desert.

A recent visitor, Magda C., posted this review on Yelp! “… this summer YOU HAVE TO see the Burning Man exhibition. Burning Man is one of the greatest experiences you can get and now some art pieces are right here in our Museum! It’s a great honor and an incredible treat, as Cincinnati is only a second city after DC to house this special exhibition. There are some big format installations from the playa, but also a lot of background info so that everyone can understand a bit more of what Burning Man is and isn’t. Fantastic experience…Highly recommended.”