The Anti-Burning Man

The New York Times has a story about the Bombay Beach Bienalle at the Salton Sea in California.

They just had the first one, seems like it was a hit. Art, opera, and weirdness: sign me up.

The Times have coined it the Anti-Burning Man.

Last weekend, a mostly abandoned town on the Salton Sea was transformed into a pageantry of art and opera and weirdness.

The three-day Bombay Beach Biennale was free to attend, unpublicized and driven by a mission of local engagement.

Call it the anti-Burning Man.

The idea came from Tao Ruspoli, a Los Angeles filmmaker, who years ago became fascinated by the Salton Sea, a onetime tourist mecca straddling the Imperial and Coachella Valleys that has succumbed to environmental decay.

He started visiting often and even bought a house in Bombay Beach, a speck of a town on the eastern shore.

“This idea of Bombay Beach Biennale popped in my head because rather than play up the sadness of the place,” he said, “I thought it would be more interesting to play on the surrealness of the place…It’s such a mixture of contradictions, of natural and unnatural, of beautiful and ugly.”


Forget Leave No Trace. These artists want to leave it better:

Mr. Ruspoli partnered with two friends, Stefan Ashkenazy, an art lover and hotelier, and Lily Johnson White, a philanthropist and member of the Johnson & Johnson family.

Last year, the trio self-funded the inaugural festival, under the theme “Decay,” and invited artists, philosophers, writers and other assorted merrymakers from their network of friends to join. It was a hit.

But rather than simply clear out once the fun was over, the festival has aimed to reinvent some of the abandoned buildings in town as permanent art spaces.

“The ethos is to be playful but also leave a lasting impact to the town,” Mr. Ruspoli said.


The Johnson (and Johnson) family are full of interesting characters, to put it mildly.

crazy rich

Stefan Ashkenazy is the owner of La Petit Ermitage, one of the commercial hotels doing pop-ups at Burning Man VIP camps.

petit ermitage

And as for the third player in this trinity, the description of “film maker” doesn’t quite do him justice:
Tao Ruspoli is an Italian American filmmaker, photographer, and musician. Ruspoli is the second son of occasional actor and aristocrat Prince Alessandro Ruspoli, 9th Prince of Cerveteri and Austrian-American actress Debra Berger. He is the older brother of Bartolomeo dei Principi Ruspoli, second husband of oil heiress Aileen Getty.
A prince(ling), whose sister-in-law is a Getty. No big deal. Oh and he got engaged to Olivia Wilde at Burning Man and married her at 18 on a school bus
olivia wilde tron
The Salton Sea is a seriously trippy place.

This year the Biennale theme was The Way The Future Used To Be. There were more than 100 artists and performers, with attendance “in the hundreds rather than thousands”.

Carmiel Banasky in LA Weekly described the psychedelic space station and other accoutrements:

My first stop at the fest was a Mad Hatter-esque tea party, where cake pops (made by a local family), joints and edibles were passed around while fairy women made bondage art in the branches. Along the beach was a lifeguard stand turned into a psychedelic space station. Colorful smoke bombs set off at sunset through large sea creature cut-outs asked us to remember where we were, while the outdoor bar next door (tended by men in yellow bikini briefs) asked us to forget it.

Read the full story at the New York Times

Read the LA Weekly Story

See more photos on Instagram

An art installation on the sand at Bombay Beach. Credit: Jennifer Wiley

Artists explored the surreal setting of the decaying Salton Sea. Credit: Laura Austin

Men in yellow bikini briefs tended a bar at the Bombay Beach Club. Credit: James Frank
Films were screened at a drive-in theater featuring the shells of broken-down cars. Credit: James Frank
A performance at the Bombay Beach Opera House featured dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. Credit: James Frank

16 comments on “The Anti-Burning Man

  1. Looks like last year was actually the first one:

    The testimonials make me dislike it even more. The ones they chose to stick on the website include “award-winning film critic and literary writer,” an “internationally-exhibited Artist,” and a “world-renowned philosophy professor at the University of Chicago.” Fuck that. They’re courting the establishment from the get-go. Like I said, trust fund kids mimicking Burning Man in a different location. The fact that it’s (currently) free and especially that there are no sound camps is great, and I’m sure it’s a fun time amongst the connected, established LA arts community, in an admittedly awesome location. But ultimately, I’m not interested.

    • Well, maybe they WERE inspired by the Borg. At least it is a challenge to the franchise. What would McDonald’s be without Wendy’s? I will bet the Borg’s $4 million/year lawyers are combing through this event for litigation targets.

  2. Unless “The three-day Bombay Beach Biennale was free to attend, unpublicized and driven by a mission of local engagement,” was wrong, THIS is the new incarnation of Burning Man. No one deciding who can come. In that sense it IS the Anti-Burning Man, since today’s Burning Man is not your father’s Burning Man.

    This one I might go to.

    • Interesting that the Borg’s calcified view of the NV burn made them miss the opportunity of this place and crowd. The story would be different if they had a hand in crating this. Saying the Borg “inspired” this is entirely false; burners inspired this – this is a creation by burners, like Burning Man was before the sellout. Come, create. share.

      “What are you bringing?”

    • I just hope they have learned the lessons tought by the Borg on how NOT to do this type of thing.

  3. On second thought, this whole thing was put on by ultra-rich folks. It might be glossy, shiny fun in the same way Further Future is, but fuck this. Money can’t buy inspiration. And yeah, this ain’t an “anti-Burning Man,” it’s clearly heavily inspired by Burning Man. Reproducing Burning Man in another location isn’t creating anything new. We still await the true anti-Burning Man, something completely new and revolutionary like our dear BRC was when it first sprung up. This ain’t it.

    • If you’ve ever been to Salton Sea, especially if you were there during its heyday and then after it collapsed, you can understand why it is inspiring to artists.

      • It’s an awesome location. I just don’t like all the trust fund kids backing this whole venture, or the fact it lifts wholesale from Burning Man.

        • Interesting. So, you prefer an event with attendance carefully curated by the Borg, to their profit, and reject the idea that anyone who wants to can come.

  4. Doesn’t sound “anti”. Sounds “inspired by”. Sounds like no sounds camps or boring music. Sounds like heaven.

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