‘City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man’ at the Nevada Museum of Art


The archive-based exhibition, organized by the Nevada Museum of Art, is on view in Reno July 1, 2017 through January 7, 2018. It will travel to the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, in spring 2018.

Photograph taken by Karen Kuehn of Black Rock City LLC Founders, Will Roger Peterson, Crimson Rose, Michael Mikel, Larry Harvey, Harley K. Dubois, and Marian Goodell, 2013
Image courtesy of Burning Man Project

The remarkable story of how a legendary Nevada gathering evolved through collaborative ritual from humble countercultural roots on San Francisco’s Baker Beach into the world-famous desert convergence it is today comes together in City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man. Never-before-seen photographs, artifacts, journals, sketches, and notebooks reveal how this temporary experimental desert city came to be, and how it continues to evolve. Organized by the Nevada Museum of Art, many items included are drawn from the archive collections of the Museum’s Center for Art + Environment. City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man opens July 1 and remains on view through January 7, 2018 at the Nevada Museum of Art, Donald W. Reynolds Center for the Visual Arts, E. L. Wiegand Gallery located in downtown Reno, Nevada. In the spring of 2018, the show will travel to the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.

Key to Black Rock City fabricated by The Man Crew and presented to Will Roger Peterson, circa 2000
Collection of Nevada Museum of Art
Center for Art + Environment Archive Collections
Gift of Will Roger Peterson

Borrowing methods from anthropology and archaeology, City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man relies on primary source materials, such as archives, artifacts, journals, sketches and notebooks. These historical items trace the civic growth and development of Burning Man’s temporary city that arises annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The exhibition also acknowledges Burning Man’s global impact and touches on what the future may hold for the recently-established Burning Man Project.

“This exhibition only begins to unravel the story of Burning Man,” said Ann M. Wolfe, Andrea and John C. Deane Family Senior Curator and Deputy Director at the Nevada Museum of Art. “Through City of Dust, the Nevada Museum of Art hopes not only to shine a light on this vibrant, participatory community, but also to illustrate how its radically experimental nature connects to the desert, and to the region of the Greater West.”

City of Dust spans three consecutive galleries at the Nevada Museum of Art, each focusing on a specific era in the convergence’s growth and change. Themes include Countercultural Roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, Spontaneous Order in the Desert, Art on the Playa and Beyond, Burning Man’s Global Reach, and Burning Man into the Future. While some of the materials on view are on loan from private collections, most are drawn from the Archive Collections of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. Home to the largest publicly-held collection of Burning Man archives anywhere, researchers travel from around the world to study these materials while seeking to better understand Burning Man’s legacy.

Throughout the exhibition’s run, numerous educational and public programs will take place including:

Kate Raudenbush’s Guardian of Eden sculpture, first installed at Burning Man, and the first Burning Man artwork acquired by an art museum in the United States, 2007

Thousands of “Burners” make their way through Reno Tahoe, en route to and from the playa, but this year the aura leading up to the week-long event is so strong even Burners can’t handle the heat, and City of Dust is stoking the fire. Another fun fact? For the first time ever, the most important element of Black Rock City – The Man – is being built right here in Reno Tahoe!

This is a story only the objects can tell. To better understand Burning Man’s legacy, you’ll have to come and check out City of Dust for yourself. Don’t forget to engage on social media by using #CityOfDustArchive.

Feature image credit: Richard Misrach, Desert Croquet [#3 (Balls/Plane/Car], 1987
Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art
Gift of Michael Light

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