My Boundless Experience at Burning Man’s Charitable Auction

Boundless Space…. what a whirlwind of a week. I experienced an out-of-the-box collision of two worlds with more in common than one may think. The collaboration brought together Sotheby’s, one of the oldest auction houses in the world, and Burning Man, one of the largest and most unique experiences driven by artists and creatives. It was a partnership I’m sure many would never expect — except Fab 5 Freddy, the connector behind the project. 

While some Burners weren’t so sure how to feel about this collab, I think the auction’s mission to bring together and support artists from around the world with a major focus on BIPOC and women artists, fusing up-and-coming and well-known artist of all mediums, definitely deserved a chance.

It’s not often many of us get the opportunity to have our work sold in the secondary art market. This was a huge deal for me, and I’m sure many others. To be among artists who have made such a name for themselves, both on playa and in the default world, was a lot to take in. 

The secondary art market, according to Private Art Investor magazine,involves the resale of artworks, either through private sales or auction houses. Many secondary market dealers have little contact with artists, and they rarely sell a work at a lower price with the hopes of developing an artist’s career.

“Long wait on parallel street” by Valerie Asiimwe Amani

As one of the up-and-coming artists to join this exhibit, I can say firsthand that I would have had a very small chance to be associated with Sotheby’s at this stage in my career. That was a huge factor for saying yes to what otherwise seemed like such an unlikely and uncertain pairing. 

I also considered how Burning Man Project could be a space that supported artists in ways other than art on playa; Boundless Space would be an experiment of what that could look like. This was a way to support the artists who do so much for the greater community, many of whom get overlooked. It was also a huge opportunity to introduce Burning Man to non-Burner artists while supporting many artists from around the world. 

It was lovely to see other Black women artists included in the show. I look forward to seeing an increase in diversity — and in particular, Black women in future collaborations that support artists — in galleries and Black Rock City. I hope Boundless Space will help facilitate that change. 

Favianna Rodriguez with her painting “Guardian,” 2021 (Photo by Erin Douglas)

I’m thrilled to have participated as an artist in the Burning Man auction. The whole gathering felt very Burning Man in spirit and I enjoyed connecting with Burners I had not seen in the last two years. The beautiful artwork in the exhibition reminded me of the amazing and talented artists that are part of the Burning Man community. I enjoyed meeting the project staff and supporters who put together the event. I enjoyed dancing and celebrating all the vibes that are Burning Man. The panels were phenomenal as well. I was reinvigorated and recommitted in my love for Burning Man, both as an artist and theme camp lead.”
—Favianna Rodriguez, artist

This weekend’s collision of two worlds was evident not only in the art and artists included in the auction, but in the reinvention and activation of the gallery space itself. Normally five floors of stark, white walls — with only the loan sound of your footsteps as music to your ears — the third floor of Sotheby’s NYC became instantly filled with colors, sounds, and people adorned in eccentric and vibrant styles. It was a true Burning Man takeover.

“Rocket Car” by David Best, 2016 (Photo by Scott Bain); “Big Rig Jig” by Mike Ross and Crew, 2007 (Photo by MARTI)

An orange wall tapestry took up half the main room, casting its color to tint the walls. There were vintage furniture and rugs, live performances, DJs, sound healing sessions, dance parties on the rooftop, workshops, and panel discussions. Something was happening at almost every moment of the day, often many things at once — in true Burner style. Art mediums ranged from photography — such as the pieces I contributed from @blackburnerproject — to beautiful jewelry, paintings, and sculptures. The variety of art featured in this auction and gallery exhibit was vast and complex. 

“The struggle of Icarus as a black man in America” by Maurice Cavness, 2021
“Trocto” by Yelena Filipchuk & Serge Beaulieu (HYBYCOZO), 2021
“From the Ashes of the Industrial Arts” by Tania Seabock, 2021

On top of immersing myself in the beautiful art, I found this weekend to be full of connecting and networking with so many amazing people, artists, and art lovers. The offsite gatherings were just as important as what took place within the walls of Sotheby’s.

I would enter the beautiful homes of people I’d never met, who welcomed me and others in, ready and prepared to host us all. This is where I was able to have longer, deeper conversations with people I didn’t see or get to meet at Sotheby’s. I was adorned with a gold LOVE necklace created by Laura Kimpton as a gift she gave out over the week. Julia Whitelaw, co-creator of “Bliss Dance” gave me valuable advice about my art piece idea. I met and got to know artist Quest Skinner, with her dynamic personality, for the first time. And I heard some stories of Burning Man from D.A. of Black Rock and his sisters (I may have successfully convinced them to return to Black Rock City in 2022). Love, support, and community was definitely in the air… and oh-so needed.

“Zapotec Cross” by Sabino Guisu, 2021

“It was amazing to see so much diversity in a place like Sotheby’s. The panel discussion on Sunday brought me right back to the energy of the playa; the inclusion, creative thinking, storytelling, and the kindness amongst the crowd was revitalizing. To add to that, the art was out of this world!”Natalia Zamarini, Burner

“Agartha is Illuminated… As Above, So Below” by Quest Skinner, 2021

(Photo by Natalia Zamparini)

I also had the pleasure of hosting, producing, and moderating my first panel discussion which, luckily, was the success I’d envisioned it to be. The support was overwhelming. I have my amazing panel guests to thank for such a dynamic and much-needed conversation. Thanks to actor Mehcad Brooks, artist & activist Favianna Rodriguez, and DJ & NAACBurners Camp member Jason Victor, for bringing such amazing energy with deep and authentic stories and conversation to Sotheby’s. I don’t know if anyone was prepared to learn and be inspired as much as we all did by discussing the importance of diversity at Burning Man and healing in BIPOC communities. I for one would have never envisioned the first panel I’d produce, with conversations about diversity, to take place at Sotheby’s. I’m thankful for it.

(Photo by Karsten Tannis)

Photographer Karston Tannis attended the panel on Sunday to explore what Burning Man was all about: “I loved seeing the variety of art and most importantly hearing about the healing properties, closure, and bonding that Burning Man fosters.”

And now, with the lots closed — it’s Friday, October 8th, about a quarter past noon Eastern Time here — I am able to think about the event in its entirety. There was a lot that went into this, both pre-event and throughout the week. I could see it on everyone’s faces, working to make it grand, tapping people that they knew, doing what they could to get bids. With that being said, there were many lessons learned as a new artist exhibiting my work. I’m sure even more for the nonprofit Burning Man Project, for Sotheby’s, and for the Burner fam community who contributed to putting this on. Some of my takeaways: regardless of the status of any institution, don’t expect too much. Come prepared, and speak up to ensure your vision is being executed. Things weren’t perfect, but I think the mishaps will lead to even better collaborations in the future.       

Artist Quest Skinner who contributed the Mermaid to the auction was excited for the opportunity and spent several months preparing for it. She is, however, looking forward to seeing how this experience shapes the future of Burning Man culture. She hopes this leads to opportunities to do something even bigger and better. “Ultimately, I walked away feeling confident and proud of my work and the spirit of our community.”

Boundless SpaceThe Possibilities of Burning Man — some Burners understand what that may look like. This weekend was, for many others, the first introduction to Burning Man, and it has them truly wondering… “just what possibilities are there?” 

(Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Erin Douglas, 2021)

About the author: Erin Douglas

Erin Douglas

Erin Douglas is an experienced travel, lifestyle, and portrait documentary photographer, creative culture consultant, and founder of Black Burner Project — a multicultural movement driving diversity and inclusivity at Burning Man through photography and personal narratives. Erin creates and produces visually moving imagery that aligns with her mission of helping others connect authentically, with an emphasis on inclusive stories that encourage people to action. Erin’s work has been featured in Essence, NY Post, Runner’s World, The Baltimore Sun; and has exhibited in NYC, DC, Art Basel, and most recently as part of the "Boundless Space" auction at Sotheby’s.

8 Comments on “My Boundless Experience at Burning Man’s Charitable Auction

  • Yolana says:

    That’s awesome. Did the proceeds go to worthy causes, something like PUMP AID, that builds sustainable water wells in Africa? I’m excited to know how the money will be spent on helping the less privileged. Thank you.

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  • Gerry Mander says:

    Gee, what a surprise that one of the artists featured in the auction found it a nice experience.

    How about a discussion of how theme camps, DJs, and art cars are strung up on a pole for any kind of fundraising that mentions burning man or uses the man symbol in any way, but throwing a party with Sotheby’s is ok? How are the artists that were invited to participate different from all the other artists that gift their passion to the event every year?

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  • Brian says:

    Loved sitting in and listening to the panel. It’s so important to show representation and the uplifting nature of the community. And Boundless Space definitely did. Thank you for the opportunity to experience art and conversations I would not normally be exposed to. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Thanks for the report, and for your photos! I spend time in the art world as a (very small scale) collector, and in conversations with artists, collectors, gallerists, and art school professors. They are always interesting conversations.

    David Hickey, a famous self-taught critic commented that art moves faster than culture because artists are always talking to one another about culture. In my area, the museum, galleries, blue chip to DIY organized, and the BFA & MFA programs, have moved very quickly to embrace diversity. Our little museum created the first museum show for Hank Willis Thomas, and some of the work was critical of the big shoe company, a local sacred cow.

    While artists are talking among themselves, it helps to reach out to curators and arts writers to contextualize new work. Burner artists could benefit from that, though it does not accumulate momentum overnight.

    The outsider art movement, from the 90’s on, in the US
    was launched by collectors in the South dissatisfied by the New York art-making machinery. Likewise, Whitney curator Larry Rinder broke the mold in 2002 by traveling around the country and asking artists and curators “what should I be looking at?”

    Many of the regionals are in places with art schools. Perhaps some of the BIPOC art students could be interested in our Labor Day art campout?

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  • oleg says:

    Thank you for sharing your expirience with all us.
    How many work were participated and sold?

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