Scenes From “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” at the Renwick Gallery

If you’re in DC and not living under a rock, you’ve heard plenty of chatter about the No Spectators exhibit at the Renwick Gallery (part of the Smithsonian system, for my out-of-town friends).  The exhibit features art pieces from Burning Man and has been going on for months now.  For a time, it encompassed the entire museum – the gallery isn’t huge – and while the first floor exhibits have closed down, there’s still plenty to see on the second floor, which is remaining open until mid-January, 2019.  I’d been meaning to go for months – and of course was kicking myself for missing the lower floor exhibits – and last week my dear museum-going friend Susan and I slipped away from our desks for an hour of wandering amongst the huge installations.


The first room we walked into had a pile of cozy-looking beanbag chairs underneath a giant suspended star on which images of the galaxy were coming into and out of focus.  I sort of wanted to lay down on the beanbags and watch from under the star, but I felt awkward.  (I should have just gone for it.  The whole point of the exhibit was to interact with the art.)

I could have watched the display for hours, but since this was a sneak-away-at-lunch visit, we moved on to check out the rest of the installation.  The next room featured Shrumen Lumen, by Foldhaus Art Collective.

We both gasped in delight at the luminescent folded mushrooms towering over us.

Each mushroom featured a small circle at its base, and visitors were invited to interact with the art by stepping on the circle when it turned green and watching the mushroom change shape and expand overhead.

Gorgeous!  Susan and I moved on to the next room but noticed, glancing back, that the mushrooms started to change colors, taking on reds, oranges, yellows and greens instead of the relatively sedate blues and purples we had been watching – so we rushed back in to watch a bit more.


So beautiful!  Again – I could have stayed in this room all day.  But the next large installation was the one that I most wanted to see, so – onward.

We moved through a room with a few smaller pieces – including the replica of the Man in the picture at the top of this post – and I think my heart skipped a beat, or maybe two or three, when we found ourselves standing in the midst of Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone (HYBYCOZO), by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu.

The installation was made up of three geometric steel structures, lit from within by mirrors and lights that were constantly changing color, throwing an array of lacy shadows over the entire room of the gallery.  I wandered from structure to structure and back again, basking in the light and shadows and snapping pictures from every angle and with every new color combination.  I couldn’t get enough!

The display was hypnotic and the intricate shadows on the wall were pure magic.

The next room featured memorabilia and explanatory placards about the phenomenon that is Burning Man – definitely interesting, but we moved through it fairly quickly as we were running short on time and wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting quietly in the Burning Man chapel.  The chapel was an entire room of the most intricately-carved wood I’d ever seen.  All over the walls were scrawled messages to departed loved ones, and visitors to the gallery could add to the wall via small wooden cards.  Susan and I wandered through the room, reading the messages and gazing at the carvings until we agreed – in hushed voices – that it was time to break the spell and head back to the office.

I’m so glad that I made time to see No Spectators, even if I missed out on the first floor exhibits – it was still worth every minute spent wandering through the incredibly creative, inspiring installations, and I hope I’ll have the chance to go back at least one more time before the second floor shuts down.  And maybe I’ll have to add Burning Man to my bucket list – I never had a desire to go before seeing this exhibit, but I was so blown away by these pieces in a museum that seeing similar art under a star-filled desert sky might be a new life goal.

What’s the most creative art exhibition you’ve ever seen?


2 thoughts on “Scenes From “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” at the Renwick Gallery

  1. Pingback: 2018: In Review | Covered In Flour

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