Renwick Gallery, a free art museum in Washington, D.C., provides a unique and fascinating look into the infamous Burning Man festival in Nevada. Every year, 70,000 humans fill the empty, sandy desert of Black Rock, Nevada, constructing a temporary city. Art installations, steampunk costumes, and innovative futuristic vehicles fill the desert with radical self-expression as far as the eye can see. Burning Man is a celebration of human innovation, creativity, and genius, a once-in-a-lifetime experience one could only achieve by traveling thousands of miles to Nevada in August – until now.
Renwick Gallery offers a look into this riveting cultural phenomenon for anyone with a few hours in D.C. . Even better, they offer it for free, a great option for college students who can’t afford a pricey museum ticket. The downstairs portion of the gallery takes you through various art creations made and featured in the festival in previous years, from ornate, science fiction aesthetic costumes to massive sculptures and vehicles. A time-lapse features the entire Burning Man experience, from the music and festivities to the grand finale of burning several wooden sculptures in a grand celebration of freedom and renewal. A miniature theater shows silent, black and white movies, while the next room asks museum-goers what they want to do before they die. Various answers include “travel the world,” “have a family,” “go sky-diving,” and my personal favorite, “go full yeet”.
The upstairs area of the museum is a collection of rooms, starting off with the large recreation of a temple from Burning Man. While the other installations demonstrate creativity and celebration, the temple is a more serious place, created to honor grief and remembrance of those we have lost. The quiet atmosphere in the dimly-lit, elaborate temple is broken only by the scratching of pens on wooden tiles; visitors can write on a tile in honor of someone they have lost or an experience they have had, and then place it somewhere in the room. This ties into the theme of “No Spectators”. Visitors to Burning Man aren’t simply visiting, they are participating, and adding to the culture. The same goes for visitors to the Renwick Gallery’s art show.
The next rooms include dynamic, massive glowing mushrooms that rise and fall based on visitor interaction, paper-lantern-esque creations visitors can climb inside, and a psychedelic art screen on the ceiling that visitors watch from a lying position on the floor.
If you’re not one for typical art museums with halls upon halls of landscape and portrait paintings, don’t rule out the Renwick – the gallery is extremely interactive and really does require museum-goers to interact with exhibits instead of merely walk through. The exhibit will remain open until January and is an easy, cheap adventure for Goucher students. Students can utilize the college shuttle to reach the train station for free, and then buy the MARC train ticket to D.C. for only $8. From there, it’s around a twenty-minute walk to the gallery. Have fun, and remember, no spectators, everyone is part of the experience.