As Reno journeys along a path of deliberate cultural evolution, its art scene is evolving as well. Being that Reno serves as a commuter community for Burning Man residents, it is no surprise that little bits of ma gical Playa Dust have been sprinkled around the Biggest Little City in the form of murals, sculptures, hotels, and events. It was only a matter of time before the Nevada Museum of Art hosted an exhibit on the history and culture of Burning Man.
Titled City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man, the exhibit is open now and runs through Jan. 7. It is one part counter-culture history lesson, one part biographical spotlight on key characters who helped make Burning Man what it is today, and one part introduction to the ethics and do-goodery that spring from Black Rock City.
Visitors first get a bit of Burning Man pre-history descriptions of the Communiversity, the Suicide Club, and the Cacophony Society. To the neophyte, this sounds suspiciously like less-violent versions of Palahniuk’s Project Mayhem. These cauldrons of counterculture creativity brought together outcasts and creative minds, the likes of which were to one day build a vaguely humanoid structure out of scrap wood on Baker Beach in California.
Details include the very first time the Man was brought to the Playa, during a trip organized by the Cacophony Society that was titled “Zone Trip #4: A Bad Day at Black Rock.” The era of the modern Burning Man event includes biographical portraits of legends like Larry Harvey, Will Roger Peterson, Crimson Rose, and Harley Dubois. Also included are bits of the Man’s ashes from a number of years, a Golden Spike and the decades-old sledge hammer used to drive this marker of Black Rock City’s geometric center, a walk down memory lane in the form of posters illustrating the various event themes over the years, a brief insight into the design of the Temple, and a pocket-sized crash course in the 10 principles of Burning Man for the un-or under-initiated.
Lastly, an overview shows how Burning Man has grown past being simply “the world’s most dangerous festival” and has inspired regional events worldwide, spun off Black Rock Solar, and cultivated Burners without Borders in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. All of this is accompanied by modern day artifacts, photos, sketches, maps, Moop, and Playa jewelry to keep the eyes moving from one dust-covered shiny object to the next.
Those with limited knowledge of the event will find that this exhibit delivers a solid basic understanding of where Burning Man came from. Visitors in the jaded “Burning Man was better next year” crowd may find themselves cursing the ignorance of the bewildered tourists, but those crusty old-timers will also appreciate seeing the evidence of the event’s fabled history. Salacious spectators expecting to see walls full of photos showcasing the drug use and rampant nudity so often attributed to the event will be sorely disappointed. The exhibit is almost entirely family friendly. A few photos with genitals or female breasts can be found, but anyone spending time searching out every last beaver or trouser snake will have a hard time obfuscating their intent.
Burners heading from or to the Default World via Reno should definitely make time to visit the museum to see this exhibit after testing the dust-handling capacity of their hotel’s plumbing, gorging on all-you-can-eat sushi, and probably enjoying a sand-free massage or yoga session.
A description of the exhibition, including a 21-minute video and information about a series of related lectures that runs through December, is posted at http://www.nevadaart.org/
The Nevada Museum of Art is at 160 West Liberty Street in Reno. It is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Thursday, when it stays open until 8 p.m. More information can be found at www.nevadaart.org.
BURNING MAN SPECIAL: The museum will be open on Tuesday, Sept. 5, from 10 to 6, in honor of Burning Man. Admission will be free.