The Art of Burning Man at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens

by | May 30, 2017

A little bit of Black Rock City is coming to Norfolk in quite the unique way. In case you’re not familiar with Burning Man, it’s an annual gathering that takes place in a temporary metropolis called Black Rock City that culminates in a massive art structure of some sort being burned. The week-long experiment in a temporary community of art is guided by 10 main principles and focused on self-expression and self-reliance—all taking place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where temperatures can easily surpass 100 degrees in the daytime and plummet 50 degrees at night. In full disclosure, it’s impossible to fully comprehend what Burning Man entails unless you’ve been.

But for those who have an interest, whether you’ve participated in past Burning Man events or just find the whole concept completely fascinating (which, how could you not?), the Hermitage Museum and Gardens has got just the thing for you.

One of the largest sculpture exhibits ever in terms of size and number of artists involved is set to begin at the Hermitage on June 4 with The Art of Burning Man. The dreamy, abstract, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring works of six renowned sculpting artists from Burning Man will be on display, re-created in an entirely new environment for viewers to experience the event’s artwork right here in Coastal Virginia.


Top Left and Bottom: Sessilanoid by James Peterson. Top Right: Squared by Charles

The continuation of the Hermitage’s contemporary sculpture program in collaboration with Burning Man Arts comes to represent the range of different types of work seen by artists at the event. It brings the works up close and is designed for interaction with the viewer and, unlike the event, allows for the sculptures to be seen for more than 10 days. The location also brings in an entirely new factor that changes the experience of the art, as the Hermitage’s grassy setting with the backdrop of the Lafayette River contrasts the dry and dusty landscape of the Nevada desert.

The exhibit also doesn’t turn a blind eye to the museum’s original mission as designed by founder Florence Sloane. “Her goal for the Hermitage is that it would be a place for the community where they could explore the arts in all forms,” explains Hermitage Executive Director Jen Duncan. Over the recent years, the museum has invited visitors to see work they couldn’t see elsewhere often with unusual and unique displays on their 12 acres to broaden the sense of the Hermitage as a venue for visitors in the community. “We want to build a connection with our visitors that gives them awe and wonder, that presents something different and provides them an experience that they haven’t had before,” Duncan adds.

As some pieces are quite large and coming from the West Coast, it takes a bit of planning on the part of the Hermitage staff. For example, Storied Haven by Five Ton Crane, a 28-foot boot made of plywood, steel fiberglass and plaster resembling a home from a children’s fable, requires a certain degree of separateness for its proper effect. Some sculptures require heavy equipment, scaffolding and cranes to work into position.

Top: Compound Eye/I by Kirsten Berg. Left: Totem of Confession by Michael Garling-
ton and Natalia Bertotti
. Right: Photo Chapel by Michael Garlington.

In addition to the exhibition, the Hermitage will allow for visitors to engage with artists during artist talks and learn about Burning Man’s culture. There will also be a lighted bike parade, part of the Burning Man experience, which will involve members of the community.

The exhibit is already generating excitement, as it is unique and the first of its kind. No other venue in the country has hosted these works in an exhibit. “I think I’m most excited about the number of ways it offers people who want to participate in some way, the ability to do that,” Duncan remarks. “The work that we’re presenting, the events we’re going to have around it, all offer people a lot of different ways to have a much deeper experience with an exhibition that they’ve probably never had before.”

The Art of Burning Man will open to the public Sunday, June 4 and will run through Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.

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