‘Museum of No Spectators’ Commands Community Participation

Pop-Up Exhibition Space Upends Traditional Artist-Viewer Dynamic


Museum of No Spectators (MoNS) redefines art through participatory engagement. Images courtesy of John Marx, AIA. Click here for high-resolution images.

BLACK ROCK CITY, NV:  “Museums are not neutral spaces,” contends architect/artist John Marx, AIA, who joins with artist Absinthia Vermut and builder Jerry James to develop Museum of No Spectators (MoNS) intended to be built at Burning Man 2020 (scheduled for August 30th-September 7th).  “Museums are often perceived as elitist and exclusive.  We believe that exceptional and powerful work that has a profound resonance with society can be created outside the museum-industrial complex.”

MoNS aims to redefine the perception of what constitutes art through participatory engagement.  It challenges the notion of the museum as a temple of great masterworks by encouraging people to participate playfully with the idea of what museums mean.  MoNS turns the concept around and creates a fully participatory, highly interactive, and radically inclusive container where all become exhibiting artists as they place their works on the walls—or even use the interior and exterior walls as a canvas.  With the intention of allowing art to continue to develop during event week, self-expression continues as people add to or subtract from existing pieces.  “Walking through a museum looking at someone else’s art is the definition of spectating,” says Vermut.  At MoNS, would-be spectators are transformed into full participants.

“We certainly acknowledge that Burning Man may be postponed, given current restrictions on public gatherings,” notes Marx.  “If that’s the case, we’ll look to 2021 to realize our vision.”

Committed “Burners” Marx, Vermut, and James (a founder and builder of the first “Man” in 1986) will enlist a volunteer team of 40 to construct the 1,700-square-foot timber structure.  Comprising nine chambers, MoNS turns museum planning on end, as visitors enter through the gifting shop.  There, they are encouraged to make a gift before proceeding into the main museum.  “Art Barkers” will be available to facilitate, inspire, or teach participants how to make gifts with available art supplies.  Artists then flow through nine galleries adding their art in an uncurated, revolving exhibition of self-expression.  The exit is dubbed “Theatre of the Participant,” with a stage that opens up to the vast potential of the Burning Man Playa and the world beyond.

“There are many misconceptions about why people go to Burning Man and what they do there,” notes Marx.  “From my experience, Burning Man serves to teach us about community and kindness through participatory art.”

About John Marx, AIA
John Marx, AIA, is co-founding Design Principal and 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.  He believes great architecture is part intellectual and part emotional, and results in spaces that are contextually appropriate as well as emotionally inviting.  Marx is the author of Études: The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments (ORO Editions, 2020), a compilation of his watercolors and poetry, as well as The Absurdity of Beauty (The Architectural Review, 2018), a treatise on 2nd-Century Modernism.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

About Absinthia Vermut
Absinthia Vermut 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-winning Absinthia Organic Absinthe.  She is Co-Founder and COO of Nickel Dime, makers of four award-winning cocktail syrups.  Vermut has launched a podcast called “Absinthe: Education,” and is a member of the Women’s Cocktail Collective.  Absinthia’s Bottled Spirits is certified as a WBENC (woman owned business).  Vermut earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York University and her MBA from Babson College, Wellesley, MA.

About Jerry James
Jerry James is an original co-manager of Burning Man.  A professional carpenter, James and friend Larry Harvey made an eight-foot-tall wooden man and burned it at San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986.  By 1990, the “Man” was nearly 40 feet tall, and the event re-located to Black Rock Desert, NV.  James has been on several Burning Man build teams since 1986’s Man on Baker Beach.