Channeling the Burn

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man 

Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery


Exhibition Design Graduate Intern


Visitor Flow/Engagement Strategy


David Gleeson, Chief of Design

Eunice Park Kim, Exhibition Designer

Fern Bleckner, Deputy Chief of Operations  

How might we uphold high standards of visitor and artwork safety without sacrificing Burning Man's spirit of radical participation?

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man at The Renwick Gallery was the first gallery takeover since the blockbuster Wonder, an Instagram sensation which revolutionized the museum, and the gallery was anticipating record attendance.


As a Graduate Exhibition Design Intern, I was assigned to help strategize and visually represent a line management system that safeguarded highly interactive artwork and the general public, while maintaining as much of Burning Man's laissez faire spirit as possible.

Given The Renwick's location directly across from The White House, external line management required close collaboration with the Secret Service, National Parks Service, and Blair House. The area in front of The Renwick is subject to increasingly frequent closures, and we needed to formulate a plan for those occasions.


After several iterations, we were able to come up with a compromise that balanced the concerns of our neighboring government agencies with the reality of our small staff and safety of our visitors.

Inside the museum, our main concern was visitor safety interacting with the artwork and avoiding bottlenecks on crowded days. Each installation was considered to determine the potential level of danger for guests. 


This helped us land on an ideal visitor flow through the exhibit, as well as where personnel, stanchions and signage were necessary.

Exhibition attendance numbers exceeded Wonder, the show was extended, and went on to travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of CA.


After the opening in DC, I joined the staff in support of Android Jones' VR simulation. This provided me with the unique opportunity of closely observing the effectiveness of our plans, and continuing to react and adapt to visitor needs.

Copyright 2020 by Rachel Matthews