The Museum of No Spectators

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‘The Museum of No Spectators’ at Burning Man 30 August – 7 September 2020
Team:John Marx AIA,AbsinthiaVermut together with Jerry James


Museums are not neutral spaces. They position art and artists in powerful ways and are often perceived as elitist and exclusive. The standing they have in the art world can make it difficult to challenge the notion of “museum grade art”, yet anyone who has been to Burning Man will know that exceptional and powerful work is being created outside this context and work that has a profound resonance with society, so much so that it redefines our perception of what constitutes art.


Out near the dusty perimeter of Black Rock City will soon lie a different kind of museum created by co-lead Artists John Marx and AbsinthiaVermut together with Lead Builder Jerry James, one of Burning Man’s original Founders who built the first “Man” in 1986.


Marx describes their collaborative project, called ‘Museum of No Spectators’,
“Burning Man as an event invites you to experience art as not just something you might passively appreciate, but as a joint enterprise that unleashes your own creative potential. This is why Absinthia and I thought that a museum on the playa that encourages all Burners to make works of art in an uncurated and spontaneous environment is an ideal way to reconsider what museums can be. It also raises interesting questions around the Range of Cultural Inclusion and how this might impact society in general.”


The name ‘The Museum of No Spectators’ suggests an alternative museum that moves away from art being something other people, Great Masters, do and we worship. Instead, ‘The Museum of No Spectators’ asks a series of questions: What would a museum be like on the playa within Burning Man culture? What would you do there? What role would art play, what role would people play, what role would you play?


‘The Museum of No Spectators’ picks up on the wholly participatory nature of Burning Man culture. This is in sharp contrast to the default museum experience of, for example, the visitor who “consumes” art through the blockbuster show. At ‘The Museum of No Spectators’, the visitor is no longer a consumer, but enters into what is a radically inclusive space where the creative process is a key element in how the art is being shared with others - as an inherently decommodifying experience.


San Francisco based Architect John Marx summarises the design concept for the Museum,
“As you approach this intriguing and mysterious building with its unusually shaped galleries, appearing part machine, part creature, part abstract and surrealistic form, it may present as a blank slate, with an expansive exterior, the letters spelling ‘Museum of No Spectators’ hovering above. Its dynamic shapes emerge as otherworldly yet grounded. It is waiting for you to approach and to become a part of it… to participate.”


As a study in decommodification, participants will enter through the “Gifting Shop”, where they will be encouraged to make a gift before proceeding into the main museum. “Art Barkers” will be available to facilitate, inspire or teach you how to make a gift with art supplies available.
After this initial experience, The Museum’s artists can flow through eight galleries, where the temptation is to make art right on the walls, or to bring art and add to an outpouring of creativity. Here the art on the walls will be constantly changing as Burners come and go, each able to fulfil their potential to be an artist. During event week, there is the intention of allowing art to continue to develop with Burners radically self-expressing themselves by adding to or subtracting from existing pieces.
When participants exit, they find themselves on a stage, the “Theatre of the Participant”, which opens you back up to the vast potential of the Playa and the world beyond. This is the stepping-stone to becoming the change you want to make in the world …….
AbsinthiaVermutrecounts the background to ‘The Museum of No Spectators’,


“The Museum of No Spectators came about as John and I were talking about the Burning Man exhibit at the Oakland Museum of the Arts. I had attended and loved seeing the art on the walls but having lived in Oakland and attended Burning Man as long as I have, I knew a lot of artists were not included. Exiting through the gift shop where I saw items I had been gifted on the playa, commodifying them just didn't align with the Burning Man principles. Walking through a museum looking at someone else's art was the definition of spectating. Which was okay, because we were not at Burning Man. But what if we were? What would that look like?”


This question is answered in the 1700 square foot Museum built of timber by a team of 45 volunteers at this year’s Burning Man event held August 30th- September 7th. “The Museum of No Spectators” will be made possible as a result of a fundraising drive.

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    ‘The Museum of No Spectators’ at Burning Man 30 August – 7 September 2020Team:John Marx AIA,AbsinthiaVermut together with Jerry James Museums are not neutral spaces. They position art and artists in powerful ways and are often perceived as elitist and exclusive. The standing they have in the art world can make it difficult to challenge the notion of “museum grade art”, yet anyone who has been to Burning Man will know that exceptional and powerful work is being...

    Project details
    • Year 2019
    • Status Current works
    • Type Pavilions / Exhibition Design / Exhibitions /Installations
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