But it is a dry heat… As the sun crosses the celestial equator the third incarnation of the Desert X art exhibition has opened in the Southern California desert and will be on display through May 16th of this year.
A complex web of Covid-weary Los Angelenos; international art seekers; Palm Springs ‘spring breakers’; Joshua Tree hikers taking the day off; Coachella valley locals and those lucky few who may have happened to stumble on to the event in the right place at the right time have all made their way to view Desert X. Those mentioned, plus many more have descended upon this stretch of Southern California desert before the period when Spring bliss gives way to the furnace that is the next three months of heat and most living organisms (art seekers included) tend to hibernate. The return of Desert X makes a fitting art + destination experience as well as the perfect antidote to our current Covid world order.
During the inaugural Desert X event in 2017 blockbusters like Doug Aiken’s “glass house”, which was an actual ranch-style house with every available surface clad in the mirror, set the scene for a shock of the new happening for those who crave a unique “art experience”. Like other biennials, but a bit more rugged. Desert X provided an exotic backdrop for art vs. nature, which perfectly coincided with the burgeoning confluent perfect storm that is the Coachella Music and Arts Festival; a two-week-long celebration of Mid-Century Modernism; and a sparkling kitsch-free revitalized downtown Palm Springs.
Although this current installment of Desert X is somewhat more muted compared to its predecessors, no backdrop provides a more fitting complement to artwork than the desert, as It plays a minor or major character in all aspects. Curated with a more socio-political as well as international reach, this body of work feels current without a capital “C”.
Before our quest, having downloaded the Desert X app on a mobile device is almost essential. We who are fortunate enough to call ourselves locals found it indispensable even if we think ourselves too proud knowing greater Palm Springs like the back of our hand. One may benefit from embarking closest to the Palm Springs International Airport or lodging destination. Weaving from piece to piece via the app as you get closer to or farther away from the heart of Palm Springs may be ideal. Fortunately, Koffi, the venerable Palm Springs coffee spot, will aid to fuel your journey regardless of where your coordinates take you.
The work of both Alicja Kwade and Eduardo Sarabia, respectively, are by reservation only from Thursday – Sunday due to Covid restrictions. Therefore, we chose to embark on these more remote locations. Our twenty-minute 30 degree-grade hike from the car park on a warm March morning to view Alicja Kwade’s “ParaPivot (sempiternal clouds)” set the tone. Art in its most natural of habitats may be free, but one may be asked to break a sweat to take it in.
I have been here before. Each step begging, ‘will our resilience be rewarded?’ The work reminiscent of Michelangelo saying – “A great sculpture can roll down the hill without breaking” is sturdy and evocative while playing on the twin peaks of San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto in the distance. How would the reading of the work resonate minus the inherent desolate yet transcendent view? Each preceding piece wore the same question to a greater or lesser degree.
Similarly, the work of Saudi Arabian artist Zahrah Alghamdi which incorporated that long, yet slightly less arduous hike is What lies behind the walls. This tabula rasa in the form of a monolith insinuates a cartoonish upward projection from the desert floor as if willed by nature itself. It is wonderful. However, not despite, but because of its blankness.
We the viewers are allowed and invited to project all abstract notions of inherent political connotations (Palm Springs is a stone’s throw from the border of our neighbors to the south) as well as a mirror of monochromatic subjectivity. Like many other artists inspired by “earthwork” pioneers past and present, the work reveals just enough without dictating our reading. History, memory, and material all speaking simultaneous poetry.
Although situated south of the main artery of the Coachella Valley the 10 Freeway, Eduardo Sarabia The Passenger seemed remote even though its site was well in the heart of every residential Rancho Mirage. Reminiscent of a desert archeological ship dig, this work seeks to “explore the complex cultural exchanges between Mexico and the United States and the multiple economies, formal and informal, that emerge from the encounters between two nations.” Experiencing this labyrinth one can close their eyes and hear the material playing at the mercy of the wind weaving time, space, and community.
The monolith rears its head again in The Wishing Well by Ghanaian Serge Attukwei Clottey. A sculptural installation of large-scale cubes fitted with sheets of woven pieces of yellow plastic Kufuor gallons used to transport water in Ghana. Europeans introduced Kufuor gallons, or jerrycans, to the people of Ghana to transport cooking oil. The symbolism weighs heavily while communicating beauty in the same breath. Fortunately, all works can, with some coordination, be consumed within a single day for the overly ambitious, or two for the overly jet-lagged. As family-friendly adventures go, this is a bonding experience that will give the youngest art viewers much to consider and talk about.
Even the overt deductive nature of some works tends to entertain, rather than admonish. In true art biennial fashion juxtaposing one piece to another is part of the fun, although (quite possibly) an equal exercise in futility.
Nonetheless, Desert X gives one much to consider while lounging in boutique hotels (of which there are many) or strolling down main street PS. In the end, all artwork is uplifted and elevated by our presence. This collection demonstrates how It cannot exist without us.
For further incentive, with each successive version of Desert X, we are never guaranteed another. We wait patiently considering the monumental resources and energy it takes to get the Desert X art machine moving, and eventually, put in place. This fact has propelled us during those moments when the desert heat is rising; our art viewing intake is reaching capacity and we could use just one more espresso.
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