8_22 Burning Man Shrumen Lumen shot by Ron Blunt

'No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man' in Cincinnati

A Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition features unusual and interactive works tied to the annual Burning Man gathering.

Art museums rarely invite their guests to interact with the works on display, but “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” isn’t your usual exhibition. Inspired by Burning Man, a gathering of creativity that draws 70,000 participants to the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada for one week each year, the collection of room-size installations, mutant art vehicles, costumes, jewelry and more offers a taste of the annual event. 

Visitors to the exhibition, which runs through Sept. 2, can write about their dreams on Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” chalkboard installation or climb aboard Five Ton Crane Art Collective’s “Capital Theater” — a bus-like theater on wheels — to watch a silent film with musical accompaniment. Archival materials, photographs and ephemera add context to the art in the companion exhibition “City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man.”

“It’s about being fully engaged, fully aware and fully involved,” says David Brown, guest curator of special projects at the Cincinnati Art Museum. “Most of the time, you’re not allowed to interact, you’re not allowed to touch.”

Christopher Schardt’s star-shaped, 10-foot-wide LED structure “Nova” hangs from a gallery ceiling, projecting psychedelic patterns while classical music fills the room. Visitors are encouraged to lie down and take in the shifting images within the artwork.

“People at the Cincinnati Art Museum aren’t used to going to the galleries and laying down on the floor,” Brown says. 

The exhibition’s title is inspired by Burning Man’s principles of radical self-expression, participation and inclusion — concepts that have propelled it into the countercultural phenomenon it’s become since its inception in 1986. 

“There are some really beautiful ideals that are practiced out on the desert, and then people take those and carry them home with them,” Brown says. “They infect their network with them.” 

953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati 45202, 513/721-2787, cincinnatiartmuseum.org