In Need of Cash, Burning Man Is Selling Art in a Sotheby’s Charity Auction That Includes a $50,000 Rocket Car

'Hamilton' creative director David Korins designed the exhibition.

David Best, Rocket Car (2003). This piece from Burning Man is expected to fetch up to $50,000 at Sotheby's New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.
David Best, Rocket Car (2003). This piece from Burning Man is expected to fetch up to $50,000 at Sotheby's New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Sotheby’s New York is hosting an auction and exhibition of artwork from Burning Man, the annual gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

The charity auction, which runs online through October 8, is aimed at helping participating artists as well as the Burning Man Project nonprofit, which has been forced to cancel its in-person events since 2019.

“Two years of not having our event has had a substantial financial impact,” Kim Cook, Burning Man Project’s director of creative initiatives, told Artnet News. “We have placed an emphasis on staff and knowledge retention—we have very seasoned people who build the city every year, so we’ve focused on not losing that very special set of skills and expertise.”

So when Burning Man board member and hip hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy first got the idea to sell art at Sotheby’s after seeing the auction house’s debut hip hop sale last September, the auction house quickly agreed. (The organization is hoping the auction proceeds will get them through to January, when tickets go on sale for the 2022 event, reports Billboard.)

Installation view of "Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man" at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Installation view of “Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man” at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

“You’re inside a white wall space, but we’re bringing the energy and ‘the dust,’ as the Burning community would say, to Sotheby’s,” Harrison Tenzer, the house’s head of digital strategy for auctions, told Artnet News.

“We have NFTs, experience sculpture, mutant vehicles, jewelry, photographs, paintings, installation, sculptures. We have close to 200 artists from pretty much every continent on the planet,” he added. “It’s the most diverse in terms of media and in international artists that I’ve ever seen in a sale.”

To best communicate the Burning Man experience to the audience at Sotheby’s, the auction house called on creative director David Korins, the production designer for Broadway smash Hamilton, who recently helmed the creative team for New York’s hitImmersive Van Gogh” exhibition.

Installation view of "Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man" at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Installation view of “Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man” at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

“We wanted to share that Burning Man is a cultural movement,” Cook said. “The work that is generated by our community is at a very high and interesting level.”

In installing the work, Korins tried to capture the spirit of Burning Man’s founding principles, rather than recreating the physical city on the playa, which is built from scratch each year.

“When you go the exhibition,” Korins told Artnet News, “it’s really visceral and beautiful and reflective of how this kind of eclecticism and this kind of installation can meaningfully say something to the art community at large about how art can be experienced in much more welcoming and alive environment.”

Installation view of "Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man" at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Installation view of “Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man” at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Highlights include some of the massive art floats and vehicles for which Burning Man is known, such as Rocket Car by David Best, one of Burning Man’s most dedicated artists. The converted 1973 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, which measures 40 feet long and can seat up to 16 people, is expected to sell for up to $50,000.

“Over 90 percent of the artists included in this sale have no auctions records,” Tenzer said. “‘Specialist’ is in my job description, but in this sale I threw that out of window. It was a really collaborative experience with the artists.”

Alex Grey, Mayan Warrior Mask (2013)This piece from Burning Man is expected to fetch up to $70,000 at Sotheby's New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Alex Grey, Mayan Warrior Mask (2013)This piece from Burning Man is expected to fetch up to $70,000 at Sotheby’s New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

The auction house is displaying the art in its galleries, but also “there’s dance parties, there’s a lecture series, there’s a D.J. and music—there’s all sorts of things happening,” Korins said. “Because Burning Man never turns off. That’s the beautiful thing about it.”

If the Sotheby’s sale is a success, it will help keep the gathering going for years to come. “We are confident,” Cook said, “that we’ll make it through and be back in 2022 stronger than ever, having had time to look at our strategies related to sustainability as well as radical diversity and equity.”

Boundless Space… The Possibilities of Burning Man” is on view at Sotheby’s New York, 1334 York Avenue, New York , New York, October 3–7, 2021.


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