Smithsonian Art Curator Explains How Burning Man Is the Art World’s Utopia


Burning Man TED Talk - Nora Atkinson

Photo: YouTube

With this year’s Burning Man festival in full swing, why not take a look at some of the motivations behind the incredible art installations that dot Black Rock City each year? Nora Atkinson, a curator at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, brings us into the culture of Burning Man during her recent TED Talk. Over the course of 10 minutes, she attempts to answer why art thrives in this unique environment.

Atkinson, who curated the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibition at the Renwick Gallery, asks us to examine the contemporary art world and how we separate artistic works that impress us due to their price tag from art that moves us. It’s this emotional connection that Burning Man’s art taps into. Oversized, non-commercial, and sometimes dangerous, the incredible installations are the core of Burning Man, and they’re part of what brings people back year after year.

“What fascinates me the most isn’t the quality of the work here, which is actually rather high, it’s why people come out here into the desert again and again to get their hands dirty and make in our increasingly digital age,” Atkinson shares. “Because it seems like this gets to something that’s essentially human. Really, the entire encampment of Burning Man could be thought of as one giant interactive art installation driven by the participation of everyone in it.”

Atkinson’s is a much-needed perspective on the contemporary art world. As it moves outside museum and gallery doors, large-scale festival installations and public art become an increasingly vital part of the spectrum. Away from museum labels and press releases, viewers are freed from preconceived notions they are fed about particular pieces of art. At Burning Man, where a community comes together in the creative process, it’s all about how the art makes festival goers feel. Encouraged to experience the art with all their senses, visitors often engage more deeply than they would with traditional contemporary art.

By reminding us of the power and value of these installations, Atkinson opens further dialogue into what contemporary art means and what place Burning Man holds in the lexicon of history.

Watch Nora Atkinson’s TED Talk about the art of Burning Man and its place in the art world.


Atkinson was the curator of an exhibition about Burning Man art at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.

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Since 1986, people have gathered in the Black Rock Desert for this week-long celebration of self-expression and inclusion.

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h/t: [Laughing Squid]

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The post Smithsonian Art Curator Explains How Burning Man Is the Art World’s Utopia appeared first on My Modern Met.


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