The Coachella Valley is home to many arts festivals—but the new Desert X is unlike any arts event ever done here before.
Desert X, short for the Desert Exhibition of Art, is a site-specific contemporary art exhibition, spread out throughout the Coachella Valley, from Feb. 25 through April 30. Artists contributing installations include Date Farmers’ owner Armando Lerma, Doug Aitken, Norma Jeane and many others.
The president of the Desert X board of directors is Susan Davis, the editorial director at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands.
“It’s a valley-wide exhibition. A curator put together a list of artists who we invited to the desert to choose sites that specifically resonated in them,” Davis said. “They created works specific to those sites. There will be about 15 installations. One of them is up in Whitewater, and the farthest (east) are in Indio and Coachella. We will also have pieces in Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage as well. The pieces will be available to view for free for anyone who wants to visit or happens upon them.”
The Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs will serve as the Desert X headquarters.
“People will be able to get maps and get information, and we’ll be offering bus tours on Saturdays and Sundays,” Davis said.
Davis touted the wide reach of Desert X’s participants.
“These are all artists with international reputations who are in major museums throughout the world,” she said. “It’s very exciting. We’re working with a number of local cultural organizations who have become our program partners. We have the Palm Springs Art Museum. Sunnylands is going to host one of the pieces. (Local student film festival) Digicom has a number of students in the local schools who are using these pieces to create documentary films, and we’re working with Modernism Week. The parallel projects are projects that have been selected through a series of criteria and include things up in the High Desert as well as an exhibition at the Marks Center for the Arts at College of the Desert.”
Davis offered hints about what people can expect at the installations.
“In the case of the project that’s out in Palm Desert in Adams Park, Claudia Comte chose that location and created a piece that echoes the landscape,” Davis said. “The shape of the wall is from her standpoint and echoes the mountains and the landscape.
“Another artist, Jeffrey Gibson, whose piece is going to be in the sculpture garden at the (Palm Springs) Art Museum, was inspired by the windmills. He went through a process where he wanted his piece on the wind farms, but as it evolved, he realized that it would better speak to being in Palm Springs, because he’s a Native American and was very interested in the confluence in Palm Springs of Native Americans, the LGBT community and the alternative energy history. All of the artists have created pieces for those places specific to the ideas that resonated in them and influenced them.”
Davis said she had the idea for Desert X after attending biennials and big festivals in other cities.
“The purpose is to show off a city or an area as a cultural destination, and to highlight contemporary art simultaneously,” she said. “… After Hurricane Katrina, they had an exhibition every three years to bring people back to New Orleans to show that the city was growing back after the flood, and that it was a vibrant community. It was bringing people back, which was good for the economy and showcased contemporary art.
“I’ve been living in the valley for about seven years, and my background and my passion is contemporary art. … Contemporary art exhibitions could fill a vacuum here in the valley. (Visitors) come for a number of things, but not contemporary art. They certainly don’t come for art at all. I thought this would also shine a spotlight on the Palm Springs Art Museum and also shine a light on the cultural richness here in the Coachella Valley.”
Davis said she’s excited about the potential that Desert X has to show off the Coachella Valley to visitors and locals alike, using Comte’s work at Palm Desert’s Adams Park as an example.
“It’s a way for all of us who live here to see the desert through the lens of contemporary art,” she said. “From my standpoint, the exhibition has already been successful, because people have already interacted with Claudia Comte’s work and started asking questions: ‘Is it political?’ ‘Is it a mirage?’ ‘What’s it doing here?’ ‘Is it staying here?’ ‘This should be permanent.’ It starts a conversation, and that’s one thing.
“The second thing is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who don’t have a clue where Adams Park is. It shines a light on a beautiful part of Palm Desert for its residents and the people in the Coachella Valley.”
Desert X takes place from Saturday, Feb. 25, through Sunday, April 30, with installations across the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.desertx.org. Below: Phillip K. Smith III's "The Circle of Land and Sky," Palm Desert; mirror polished stainless steel; 165 feet diameter by 10 feet high (rendering).