Giant Sculptures Are Spreading Burning Man Vibes Across North America
Skeletal warriors and fire-breathing mantises have found new homes.
Burning Man may have been canceled this year, but its spirit has leaked out of the Nevada desert, extending its reach well beyond the 70,000 attendees who flock the dry lakebed every year. The festival has made its mark in the “default world” courtesy of the massive, ultra-trippy sculptures that have been re-homed across the continent.
Plenty Burning Man’s trademark art installations—the ones that weren’t burned down on the playa, ar least—can be seen throughout North America, where the multi-ton masterworks have found permanent and temporary homes in downtown cores and rural backroads. As the 2021 iteration of the festival remains a question mark, they offer a chance to get a taste of Burning Man no matter what happens… and without the hefty price tag. Here are just a few hiding in plain sight in the U.S. and Canada.
Burning Man was born on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986, so it makes sense that the Bay Area is peppered with several outstanding works of art from the festival. Truth is Beauty, a 13,000-pound dancing woman, stands 55 feet high over the San Leandro Tech Campus next to the San Leandro BART station. The piece was designed by Bay Area sculptor Marco Cochrane for Burning Man in 2013 and has been in its current spot since 2016. While many love the sculpture, some locals clutched their pearls at the otherwise very San Franciscan sight of a naked woman with her arms raised balletically to the sky.
It took Bryan Tedrick more than 1,000 hours, 20,000 pounds of steel and scrap metal, and $30,000 to create Lord Snort, a hulking 20-foot-tall, 30-foot long boar that descended on the playa in 2013. After the chaos of Burning Man, Lord Snort did what many hard-partying Californians dream of: retired to a quieter life in Sonoma. He's now on display at Healdsburg's Soda Rock Winery, where the forged-in-fire beast survived the ravages of wildfires last year (the tasting room recently reopened, too). If you're Sonoma County, it’s also worth checking out 26-foot-tall The Coyote at Wilson Winery and touring the Geyserville Sculpture Trail.
Getting art off the playa is an ordeal. Hell, getting anything to Burning Man is an ordeal. So when artists take their installations away from Burning Man, many of them leave it in the good hands of the people of nearby Reno, America’s “biggest little city.” Reno has all kinds of artwork from Burning Man, but it’s hard to ignore Desert Guard, designed by Lu Ming in China for the 2018 burn. The 12-ton, imposingly skeletal Mongolian warrior towers 49 feet above the city’s new billion-dollar downtown development called Neon Line.
If you’re walking around downtown Las Vegas’ Container Park, you can be excused for ruining your pants when the 40-foot-long Mantis spews fire above your head. Designed by aerospace engineer Kirk Jellum and partner Kristen Ulmer, The Mantis is a 150:1 steel model of a female praying mantis, with the added mutation of dragon-caliber fire breath. Vegas, naturally, has a few other Burning Man installations too, including Big Rig Jig by Mike Ross, Bliss Dance by Marco Cochrane, and a new sculpture park called Area15 run by a 10-year Burning Man vet.
Canada’s largest city has a thriving Burner community, and Toronto does a good job at surrounding them with mind-bending installations. California artist Michael Christian’s I.T.—a 40-foot-tall, glowing, three-legged space insect—has found a home in Toronto’s Distillery District, and Warren Trezevant 330-foot psychedelic tunnel Sonic Runway is at the Harbourfront for a limited time. Outside the city, Christian’s Koilos, which kind of looks like a kneeling demogorgon from Stranger Things, is on display at Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery in Bala, Ontario.
Since 2019, The Piazza in Philly—a mixed-use development comprised of eateries, retailers, and residences—has hosted London artist Andrea Greenlees’ Bebot, a 33-foot-tall cute and chubby robot with a dark side. “Bebot’s little devil tail is intended to give us pause for thought,” Greenlees told CBS Local. “It suggests that he might not be quite as innocent.”
Denver, already punching above its weight in cosmic wonderment, got extra lifted in 2018, when Raygun Gothic Rocketship found its logical new home atop Rocket Ice Cream in the Lowry neighborhood. Designed by artists Sean Orlando, Nathaniel Taylor, and David Shulman, the rocket is a mashup between a '50s sci-fi movie and anime influences. Or, in their words: “a rococo retro-futurist future-rustic vernacular between yesterday’s tomorrow and the future that never was, a critical kitsch somewhere between The Moons of Mongo & Manga Nouveau.”
Bay Area-artist Paige Tashner brought Purr Pods—huge metal cats with laser eyes—to Burning Man in 2019. Now, their eyes effectively de-lasered, they’re on the prowl at the Gallivan Centre Plaza in Salt Lake City after a stint with other Burner art in Richmond, California. The downtown plaza is also home to Koro Loko, which means “heart place” in Esperanto (an international language that was intended to foster peace and cooperation, although people may remember it more as the bizarre language William Shatner spoke in 1966 horror film Incubus. Koro Loko was made by Emily and Ian Nicolosi along with Steve Wong.
Reno artists Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton’s big word art have been shared massively since the metal words first hit the playa in 2009 and continue to be a hit in the default world. DREAM, with its 12-foot-tall LED-illuminated letters whose colors can be changed via app, is in downtown Arlington, AKA "The American Dream City." Another work, LOVE, made an appearance outside a hospital in Reno at the beginning of the pandemic, offering a well-lit message of unity and hope to those inside.
Designed by New York-based Kate Raudenbush and brought to Burning Man in 2008, Altered State looks similar to the US Capitol Senate dome, though when you look more closely, the two-story structure is intricately-designed with archetypal Native American art from the Pacific Northwest. The piece is alongside some other highly trippy art on the property of Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, an acid-influenced interfaith church in upstate New York.
Long before Burning Man, Santa Fe was setting fire to a huge effigy in front of hoards of people, so it’s worth adding here as something of a predecessor to the hugely popular festival. Part ghost, part monster, Zozobra is an embodiment of gloom that first appeared in the 1920s and is still burned every year on the Friday before Labor Day in Fort Marcy Park. It’s also worth mentioning Santa Fe’s trippy museum funhouse, Meow Wolf, which despite having technically nothing to do with Burning Man perhaps best captures its spirit because you can play in and on the art.