Petaluma to the Playa: An Immersive Exhibition

Jack Haye, Virginia and Mort Linder, and Freddy Hahne (Photo by LadyBee)

I recently attended the opening of “Petaluma to the Playa” at the Petaluma Arts Center, California. It was packed, both with attendees and art, in a very Black Rock City way.

The exhibit was organized by long-time Burner Freddy Hahne, who managed to incorporate many of the Burning Man artists who live in and near Petaluma for the show. The myriad photographs were wrangled by George Post, another very early Burner who is currently part of Burning Man’s Documentation Team. He included many photos by fellow team members.

This exhibit is packed to the gills, with photos, jewelry, artifacts and interactive booths covering the walls and floors, as well as large installations and mutant vehicles outside. Here one can touch the art and, in some cases, play with it, like the outdoor drumming tree — drumsticks provided. I watched a young boy wailing on it during the opening.

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Petaluma is home to several well-known Burning Man artists featured in the exhibit, including David Best, the Temple builder; Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, makers of large-scale structures covered in black and white photographic images; Kevin Clark, builder of flaming metal sculptures and one large rhino car; Marco Cochrane and Julia Whitelaw, creators of 40-feet-tall women who have appeared in the Black Rock Desert as well as in San Leandro and Treasure Island; Jack Haye, Man Base crew member; Nicki Adani of “Taking Flight;” and Tony Speirs, painter of large murals that have appeared in the Man Base. Also featured are three early large color photographs by Bill Binzen, who created Desert Siteworks in the Black Rock Desert in the early ’90s.

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You’ll notice a large number of black crows scattered about the exhibition. They’ve travelled from the playa to Petaluma where they’re playfully perching on art, thanks to San Francisco artist Charlie Gadeken.

Outside the Center you’ll find a wonderful grouping of large-scale playa art: two of Alex White’s mobile teapots from “The Lost Tea Party; “The Ovule” by Zoe Fry; “Taking Flight;” an interactive drumming tree, and an amusing heroic photo of some DPW members raising a flagpole. There are also two mutant vehicles: The Dusty Rhino by Kevin Clark and Freddy Hahne’s goofy green Mind Shaft Society car.

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The show beautifully conveys Burning Man’s participatory spirit, notably in the way the artists and lenders wrote their own labels and wall text; don’t miss Nick Radell’s (a.k.a Smoke Daddy) amusing text about his neon wall pieces.

The Petaluma Arts Center is hosting this exhibit through January 18; I can’t say enough about it! I encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the plentiful art, photos, and artifacts before they go away. There are several community events planned, including tours of local artists’ studios. Learn more here.

Top photo: “The Ovule” by Zoe Fry and The Introverts Collective, and “The Lost Tea Party” by Alex Wright and Camel Tow Battalion (Photo by LadyBee)

About the author: Christine "LadyBee" Kristen


Christine Kristen (a.k.a LadyBee) is Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Manager and Photo Gallery editor. She was Burning Man's art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She is the co-author of "The Jewelry of Burning Man", with Karen Christians and George Post, and the curator of the exhibition "PlayaMade: Jewelry of Burning Man", which debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017. It opens at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in January 2020. She has an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago.

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