The most amazing art event took place this past May in the vast low desert of the Coachella Valley, Desert X. Bound on the west by the San Jacinto Mountains and on the north and east by the San Bernardino Mountains, in and around the tony towns of Palm Springs and Palm Desert, contemporary art installations, transformed the region.
The Desert X biennale was conceived by Susan Davis, editorial director at Sunnylands, the famed former residence of the Annenbergs and host property to presidents and dignitaries for decades. Compelling, engaging and thought-provoking, the site-specific show took its’ cues from the spectacular sun-drenched environment and the harsh conditions living in that environment brings. The desert has a life unto itself… it is full of mystery and challenge along with the history of the cultural people that inhabited the land long before our arrival. These concepts inform the works created for this site-specific show and are both thought-provoking and beautiful.
Fourteen artists from all over the world were chosen to bring Desert X to life. The majority of the artists created work that responds to or reflects the conditions of this unique region. Desert X asks you – as the viewer to participate in the process as well. The works are spread out for several miles throughout the Coachella Valley, along winding roads, hard to find paths and city intersections. It allows you to discover parts of the valley that are unfamiliar or mysterious and then rewards you when you get there with an art cherry on top.
One of the most compelling works and a personal favorite was Doug Aitken’s, “Mirage” – a full-scale suburban ranch house completely covered inside and out by mirrored panels reflecting the surrounding landscape. The interior is equal parts open-air fort and Studio 54, it pulls the landscape in and reflects it back out… felt like a narcissists’ ideal dream space or a scene from Hunter S. Thompsons’ Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Photograph ©KimHaydenHolt.
Another compelling piece was Sherin Guirguis’s adobe structure, “One I Call” – constructed of layers of bags filled with local soil watered to form a bond, much like slip is used in building ceramic forms. The structures ventilation tubes in the roof created a cool interior space and an excellent shelter for the deserts’ harsh conditions. The piece was naturally consumed back into the earth from which it rose, as the wind and weather slowly disintegratesd the structure. Photograph ©KimHaydenHolt.
Claudia Comte’s “Curves and Zigzags” is a freestanding wall that is part painting part sculpture. The organic wave-like pattern on the totem three-dimensional wall rises like a totemic figure from the desert floor. Her work plays on the dualities of nature and culture, order and chaos, and geometric and organic form. Photograph ©Lance Gerber.
Desert Hot Springs was the home to “Third Place” by New York artist Richard Prince the installation described as “The house where my family used to live and is now having a reunion.” The whitewashed abandoned house set at the end of a long driveway speaks of the life of its’ recently departed occupants. Haunting remnants of a dysfunctional family are plastered on walls and strewn along pathways via family tweets. The work is simultaneously intriguing and disturbing. Photograph ©KimHaydenHolt.
“The Circle of Land and Sky” created by Phillip K. Smith III showcases how the local artist, who grew up in Indio, is intimately aware of the deserts’ conditions. Installed in an open field of sand and brush, the piece is formed by 300 geometric reflectors angled at 10 degrees reflected the environs and its surroundings. The horizon line, where the sky meets the land, was in constant flux as the colors and time of day changed – a spectacular installation. Photograph ©Osceola Refetoff.