Vintage Palm Springs Blog

DesertX: The Site-Specific Contemporary Art Mirage Experience


DesertX: The Site-Specific Contemporary Art Mirage Experience

by Diana Castellanos.

If you thought that Coachella Music Fest was the only place that artists could display their creations in the Palm Springs area...

Think again.

DesertX is of the more notable art exhibits in the Coachella Valley and what makes this event distinct from the rest is that of the site-specific exhibitions that the walking experience portrays amidst the natures around them. It looks at how desert modern can be applied to the desert landscape through art and it accomplishes just that. But what brought this walk-through gallery to the desert?


To give you an idea of how this site-specific contemporary art exhibit worked since its founding in 2017, the DesertX Board of Directors made the decision to bring an art exhibit to the Coachella Valley in order to articulate the socio-political artwork of emerging artists in the area and the surrounding cities. Per the DesertX website, the issues made prominent in the artwork can range from subjects such as climate change, tribal culture, and immigration. Unlike most art gatherings, it pushes how simple the notion of gentrification, pop-culture, and social-political influence the land has had since its origins up until now affects the method of living and inspires the post-modern design school to incorporate nature as a part of the build.

And thank goodness that they did or otherwise Frank Sinatra would not have his notorious piano-shaped pool.  Duh doy.

If you think that the festival is socially conscious, this art exhibit is produced by the non-profit Desert Biennial, who provides charitable deeds and art-related provisions throughout the Coachella Valley with its donations being given to several different art programs in the area.  It works alongside the Palm Springs Art Museum to further solidify some of the exhibitions into permanent installments in the museum; such as Jeffrey Gibson's "ALIVE" that was found outside the museum, as well as Armando Lerna's, "La Fiesta en el Desierto".

Typically, one would not expect to see art exhibitions in the middle of the desert; and what they would expect to see is that inclusive of sage bush, chollas or unusual rock formations.  Although these portions of nature's art already come with desert landscapes, there are notable artists that provide eccentric pieces to the landscape. In the 2017 installment of Desert X, such artists included that of Jennifer Bolande, who is known for her film-inspired pieces; Will Boone, who had an interactive bunker installment duped up with a life-size statue of JFK;  and Glenn Kaino, who's thought provoking installment in the 2017 run of DesertX was that of 'The Hollow Earth'; a seemingly lonely shed that features a deep tunnel with mirrors, made to have the viewer paradoxically stare into mirrors, reflecting on themselves and the depth of the tunnel. One of the more notable pieces of the exhibit in 2017 was that of Doug Aitken's Mirage, a mirror house that reflected the surrounding mountains, almost enabling it to "vanish". Another included one by Claudia Comte, entitled Curves and Zigzags, enticing the viewer to a heat-wave simulation with bright stainless steel and diverts in the shape of waves. These pieces were the driving force for the exhibit, as it was a familiar architectural aspect of the Palm Springs area regarding Desert Modern architectural style.  It continues to be a common theme that the region shares with this art exhibit, as the desert area has inspired these artists to enforce their economic and political viewpoints to be added to a long line of architectural history.


As we have touched on before, Desert Modern is a form of architectural style that encompasses the nature around it and is a distant cousin and exclusive from the Bauhaus Style.  Most of the art exhibits in Desert X, especially those architectural in nature, take to the vintage embodiment of the town and its long running history of the adorned style that has drawn the celebrities known to the area for decades.  This futuristic look gave a great sense to the celebrities that purchased homes in the areas feeds into our brains as the calm ambiance we all know in Palm Springs.  In its own type of historical way, one must remember that the architectural style that the holds was founded on renovated concepts of different art schools in Germany and its World War I origins of cheap but quality labor manufacturing of materials and products.  A similar feel was brought to Palm Springs when Germans were contracted in the hot California Desert to provide for the demand of nature-embracing homes.  Retracting back to the origin of all this is where the Bauhaus School of Design paved major influential pieces, and all relative to the people that we know today as some of the most influential personalities and celebrities to ever live among the desert horizons.

Embracing the nature around you is important, y'all. You should try it sometime.


Regarding how to experience the desert phenomenon that is DesertX, there is a self-guided version, with maps of the various locations and online that will be provided for the 2019 series in upcoming months.  Ironically, the DesertX installments overlaps with the Palm Springs Modernism Week, where the display of the decade-old architectural homes owned by well-known celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Steve McQueen are placed in the long and awaited annual tour of the occurring Palm Springs mid-century modern style and vintage feel.

You know what else it overlaps? DING DING DING Coa-freakin'-chella!

Chya! I know, crazy right?

At least DesertX doesn't have that many headdresses and dashikis going around in the exhibit, unless, of course, you are on your way home from the festival.

With much of the controversy that surrounds the Coachella Music Festival and their art installments, it is almost as though the DesertX series provides a perfect place to combine the themes of a true desert modern vibe all while still putting to the forefront the economic and social issues that the desert environment faces and as well as the inhabitants.  It keeps the culture of the Cahuilla Indian tribes alive by bringing the major political issues of our century, especially those focusing on the topic of self-reflection all the way to gentrification, to promote the continuous diversity that the exhibit looks to group together in a single location or region.  As mentioned before, the importance is there and it needs to be recognized to how much of an impact it can be to have the exhibit showing and making it apparent that Coachella Valley and the Palm Springs Regions have their share of values, and just as much as a metropolitan area would, but on different retrospect.


If one wishes to see the exhibit, there are still pending updates on the exact locations and what exhibits will be found where; but it is set for the dates of February 9 - April 21 at the start of the Coachella Valley and into the Desert Hot Springs area.  In this year's rendition, it is rumored that there will be a more focal point of exhibiting the natural wonders of the valley and its climate that we all hold near and dear to the desert modern aesthetic; all while having the background of the desert skies we fall in love with on every drive down that desert road.



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