The Art of Burning Man Arrives at Chatsworth

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At Chatsworth, the monumental black alder tree is a striking and known landmark. But suddenly, it appears diminutive against the sculptures that have just landed in this historic Peak District National Park. After a month “on water”—that is, making its way from one continent to another—12 large-scale pieces from Burning Man (that famous spectacle held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert each year), have arrived for the imminent opening of “Radical Horizons: The Art of Burning Man at Chatsworth,” which is running until fall. 

“We knew about Burning Man vaguely. We knew about the desert vaguely. We knew lots of people go there,” says the Duke of Devonshire with a waggish smile. “Yet not many people here have been there…and not many people there have been here either,” says the duke, whose family has occupied and cared for the Elizabethan-era estate for 16 generations since the 1550s. 

Chatsworth worked with both Burning Man and Sotheby’s to pull off the feat, with the nucleus of the idea coming from visual pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, who has an established relationship with the auction house as an artist and  happens to be a Burning Man Project board member. (Last year he donated all proceeds of his inkjet giclée Major Movement to the Burning Man Project nonprofit.)  “We thought the suggestion to pull the existing art of Burning Man into the roaming Arcadian parkland was just great. And we still think it’s great, and it’s going to get greater” says the duke. While most probably think of Chatsworth’s storied past when it comes to the estate’s art (it has housed Velázquez and Poussin and Hockney and Lucian Freud), the duke has made many contemporary acquisitions and site-specific ceramic commissions for the house by Edmund de Waal, Jacob van der Beugel, and Natasha Daintry. (He also worked for Sotheby’s in the mid-’90s.) “It may seem alien, works set within a quintessential English landscape rather than the arid desert conditions, but Chatsworth has a distinguished tradition of placing sculptures in its gardens to powerful effect,” says Sotheby’s Contemporary specialist Marina Ruiz Colomer.

As the spring sunshine glistens on the house itself (and its recently restored gold windows), it also illuminates the metal sculptures that have been carefully reassembled by the Burning Man artists and technicians over the past month. (All has gone miraculously smoothly—no drama in the Dales, it seems!) “Radical Horizons” can feel as much about the 1,000-acre landscape surrounding the house as the art—with serendipitous thematic overlap making the juxtapositions all the more impressive. The woodlands of Chatsworth are home to many moths, and as if taking a surreal, giant microscope to the landscape, three giant metal moths called Le Attrata, conceived and constructed by Margaret Long & Orion Fredericks, hover above an amphitheater of trees. This flame-driven piece will ignite as night falls, as it once did in the Nevada desert. 

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