Side Note

The Smithsonian’s Burning Man exhibit is awesome...

If you’re a rich tech idiot with no taste.

Yesterday, the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery debuted its long-awaited (by some) exhibition “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” Sponsored in part by Intel, the art of Burning Man will live in the gallery until January 2019, and will exist in perpetuity outside of the Renwick in the form of statues which will surely freak out children for generations to come.

So far, coverage of the exhibit has been fawning. “The Smithsonian’s Burning Man Art Show Is Actually Quite Good,” read a Bloomberg headline. The New York Times devoted an entire feature to the show, and it earned a mention in the Los Angeles Times’s “Essential Arts” column.

In a promotional video for the exhibit, a Renwick curator called the show, “A unique opportunity to look at Burning Man as part of the American story, as this creative laboratory” that attracts “many of the most innovative minds in our country.” The curator concluded, “Burning Man is all about building the society you want to live in.”

Let’s stop right there. If Burning Man is all about building the society you want to live in, then the festival’s attendees’ ideal world involves spending exorbitant amounts of money to buy your way into a dusty playground where rich tech idiots seclude themselves from a society they’ve ruined while pretending that money isn’t real — and that, despite its patina of eco-friendliness, carries with it a massive carbon footprint.

On top of it all, Burning Man is a black hole of taste, stained by the worst subsets of electronic music and a pro-cultural appropriation attitude that can bleed into full-on racism. The festival’s art, which seems to draw heavily from Steampunk and Deadpool fan forums, isn’t much better.

It’s good, I guess, that the Smithsonian thought to look outside of the hoity-toity confines of the art world for a massive exhibition; however, the institution managed to draw from a space that is arguably just as exclusionary, capitalistic, and problematic as the art world itself.