Architect John Marx has been returning to Burning Man to over many years.  His project for The Museum of No Spectators – a desert pavilion featuring works of art and hosting performance – was not realised in 2020 due to global pandemic.

Project Name: The Pop-Up Museum Encourages Visitors to Make their Own Exhibition
Studio Name: Burning Man

The Pop-Up Museum Encourages Visitors to Make their Own Exhibition by LAURA ILONIEMI ARCHITECTURAL PRESS & PR - Sheet3
©Burning Man

This led Marx to develop the idea for the Museum together with its co-creator artist Absinthia Vermut as an on-line environment.  The virtual pop museum was very popular and praised in the media as an exemplary undertaking of its kind.

Despite the success of the digital version of the Museum of No Spectators, Marx and Vermuth wanted to return to the original idea of building the project at Black Rock City during Burning Man.  Post-pandemic, last year saw the first iteration of this concept come to life.  This year Marx and Vermuth returned to Burning Man to refine their dream of a space for art that is wholly inclusive and encourages visitors to participate in the creation of the exhibits.

A key aspect of this initiative is that The Museum of No Spectators challenges the traditional museum experience that is often elitist based on the notion of high art or art valued by experts and collectors.  In many ways, the architecture of Marx’s and Vermuth’s desert gallery is geared to celebrate non-museum grade art and to make visitors feel like co-curators and co-exhibitors.

The Pop-Up Museum Encourages Visitors to Make their Own Exhibition by LAURA ILONIEMI ARCHITECTURAL PRESS & PR - Sheet4
©Burning Man

“The Museum of No Spectators is a place where everyone is an artist,” says Marx.  “We want people to come and share their creativity, regardless of their skill level or experience.”

The 1,400 sqft structure of the Museum is made using an aluminium steel frame that sits lightly in the desert landscape yet is robust enough to survive the elements which were particularly challenging during Burning Man this year. The structure was put up by a team of volunteers benefitting from the expert guidance of Wes Skinner, a San Francisco-area artist and metal fabricator and the Founder of Yzzo Studios. It consists of themed spaces for exhibiting art works that focus on topics ranging from social justice to introspection to abundance and the notion of sharing your humanity.  There is also an Art on The Playa Gifting Shop where visitors can create pieces on the spot.

The Museum also hosted daily readings and workshops working together with poets and with extemporaneous writing being explored.  This is very much in keeping with multi-disciplinary feast of cultural activity at Burning Man that encourages Burners to challenge the pre-existing boundaries that define art forms. To this end, Marx and Vermuth teamed up with artist and photographer Lonnie Graham as the project curator and director of cultural inclusion for the project.

The Pop-Up Museum Encourages Visitors to Make their Own Exhibition by LAURA ILONIEMI ARCHITECTURAL PRESS & PR - Sheet6
©Burning Man

John Marx sumps up the Museum of No Spectators,

“Burning Man as an event invites you to experience art as not just something you might appreciate passively, 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 a 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 team:

John Marx, AIA—architect, co-lead artist—is Chief Artistic Officer of San Francisco-based Form4 Architecture, responsible for developing the firm’s design vision and language.  He advocates philosophy, art, and poetry in the thoughtful making of place through the compelling power of form, aware that architecture is a balancing act between self-expression and collaboration.  Marx is the author of Études: The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments, a compilation of his watercolors and poetry, as well as The Absurdity of Beauty, a treatise on 2nd-Century Modernism, and Towards Abundance: The Delightful Paradoxes of Gender.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Absinthia Vermut—co-lead artist—is an artist, businesswoman, and entrepreneur with a passion for making things.  She is CEO and Founder of Absinthia’s Bottled Spirits, makers of the woman-made and distilled award-Absinthia Organic Absinthe.

Lonnie Grahamcurator/director of cultural inclusion—is an artist, photographer, and cultural activist whose work addresses the integral role of the artist in society and seeks to re-establish artists as creative problem-solvers.  He is a Pew Fellow and professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Wes Skinner—builder/welder—the founder of Yzzo Studios, is a San Francisco-area artist and metal fabricator. With several years of professional metal fabrication experience under his belt, his specialty is artistic and architectural metalwork.


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