Space Whale - Atlas Obscura

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Space Whale

What began as a prominent Burning Man art piece is now an iconic symbol of downtown Reno. 

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Thanks to some creative negotiating, Reno, Nevada is now the permanent home of a full-scale, stained glass art installation representing a humpback whale and her calf. Space Whale is a 50-foot-tall, 30,000-pound sculpture made of steel lattice and nearly 2,000 stained glass panels At night the entire piece—located on the grounds of downtown’s City Plaza—lights up from within. 

Space Whale debuted at Burning Man in 2016, a “testament to family, our relationships with nature, time and space, and our responsibility to preserve our environment.” It’s the work of “monumental” sculptor and visual artist Matthew Schultz and his team, The Pier Group, a community of artists, engineers, and freethinkers. Together they partnered with internationally known graphics illustrator Android Jones and Andy Tibbetts, a world-class fabricator, to create the one-of-a-kind piece. 

When Reno officials first dedicated Space Whale in front of City Hall in August 2017, its installation was only meant to be temporary. However, the artwork quickly became a citywide symbol, garnering fans such as Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, who wanted to keep it on permanently. While some city residents fought for its purchase, others believed the sculpture was both too pricey and fragile to keep. 

The fate of Space Whale remained in limbo until 2021, when Reno City Council approved $137,500 (down from an original price tag of $500,000) to purchase and repair the enormous artwork. In the five years since installation, about a quarter of its 1,800 glass panels have broken. The city has since replaced them with Lexan, a polycarbonate material used in bulletproof glass that can withstand high winds and other heavy impacts.

Know Before You Go

Space Whale is on public display 24/7 in City Plaza in front of Reno’s City Hall and is free to view. 

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