One of the most anticipated exhibitions of the year, Desert X is back to Coachella Valley for its second outing, bringing new life and a pop of color to the arid landscape. Spreading across more than 55 miles of California’s Coachella Valley and beyond, expanding to the south to explore the ecological bellwether of the Salton Sea, and further across the border into Mexico, this enormous art biennial activates the desert with 19 site-specific installations scattered across the sands and set against the dramatic vista.
Free and open to the public until April 21, the art exhibition is conceived under the dual themes of politics and poetics, thoughtfully acknowledging the site’s past, present and future. Hailing from around the world, the participating artists were invited to create works in dialogue with and in response to the unique conditions of the Coachella Valley, addressing timely and poignant issues such as the looming specter of climate change, migration and indigenous legacies.
Diversifying the range of media presented in 2017, this year’s edition includes film projects, evolving process-driven works, sound art and augmented reality. Here are some stunning installations that should be on your map.
Armando Lerma – Visit Us in the Shape of Clouds
An artist who taps into ancestral connections to address disparities between conditions of place and social circumstances, Armando Lerma painted a stunning mural on a water tower in his native Coachella. Titled Visit Us in the Shape of Clouds, it includes various images from the American Southwest and beyond such as snakes, birds, parrots, fish, monkeys, seashells, plants, flowers and rock art, illustrating a story of migration and the transitory.
The work is located at Landfill Road to Polk Street, Coachella (33.714416, -116.147828).
Iván Argote – A Point of View
Bogotá-born and Paris-based artist Iván Argote created an interactive sculpture at an elevation above the Salton Sea—the artificial body of water that has been California’s largest lake for the past century. Comprised of five sets of concrete stairways that combine elements of pre-Columbian and Brutalist architecture, A Point of View offers different panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding landscape as a place for contemplation and reflection. On each step, the artist inscribed messages in Spanish and English that raise questions about ownership and territory and remind the audience to consider and reflect on the history of this particular spot.
The work is located at 70th Avenue and Sea View Way, Mortmar (33.53947, -115.92978).
Erik N. Mack – Halter
An artist known for his tactile assemblages created from a dynamic combination of used textiles, worn clothes, moving blankets and torn rags, Eric N. Mack transformed a defunct gas station at the edge of the Salton Sea into living architecture. Draping and reanimating the building iconic to California with 2,300 feet of multicolor silks and tulles that ripple in the wind, the artist reframed the building’s relationship to itself and its surroundings and rendered the rigid space fluid. The audience can move between the folds of undulating, colorful and lush fabric that flicker under California’s brilliant sunlight.
The work is located at 99021 Grapefruit Blvd. and Vander Veer Road, Mecca (33.523788,-115.938942).
Cecilia Bengolea – Mosquito Net
A performance artist with a particular interest in dance anthropologies, Cecilia Bengolea created both a performance piece and sculpture that draw on her interest in animism and human-animal relations, but also the Salton Sea itself. Her free-standing sculpture, which floats above the still surface of the lake, is a bestiary that combines aspects of her dance with human figures and hybridized animals, which could have wandered through the landscape once upon a time. Engaging the audience in the interactive dance of the imagination, the work explores the way humans and animals observe each other.
The work is located at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, at Mecca, CA (33.5176, -115.93849).
John Gerrard – Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas)
Best known for his sculptures that typically take the form of digital simulations displayed using real-time computer graphics, John Gerrard created a piece that highlights the threat posed by increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Titled Western Flag, the work depicts the site of the “Lucas Gusher,” the world’s first major oil find in Spindletop, Texas. Recreated as a digital simulation superimposed over the actual landscape, it features a flagpole spewing trails of black smoke, which creates an image to the normally invisible gas responsible for global warming. The simulation is non-durational, running in parallel with the real site in Texas throughout the year.
The work is located at 2901 N. Palm, Canyon Drive, Palm Springs (33.859118, -116.559933).
Sterling Ruby – SPECTER
Sterling Ruby's bright, sleek and geometric monolith SPECTER stands in contrast to the rugged terrain surrounding it, appearing as an apparition in the desert. A large box-like structure coated in what the artist describes as an “intense retina-burning” fluorescent orange paint, it grabs the viewer's eye from far down the highway. Set apart from the natural environment and hiding in plain sight, this ghostly object creates an optical illusion as if something was removed or deleted from the landscape.
The work is located at 98-2 Snowcreek Canyon Road, Whitewater (33.912473, -116.666832).
Superflex – Dive-In
A Danish artist collective, Superflex, created a bright pink sculpture that refers to the geological history of the Coachella Valley. Once a site of an ancient sea, Coachella is actually a misspelling of Conchilla—a Spanish term assigned to the valley for the abundance of fossilized seashells found in the long-dry area. At the same time, the piece speaks of the not-so-distant future when this region once again becomes submerged under the sea due to global warming and rising water levels. With its coral-like walls and bubblegum pink color palette, Dive-In was designed to appeal to the future marine life in the area.
The work is located at Cap Homme and Ralph Adams Park 72500, Thrush Road, Palm Desert (33.706510, -116.399303).
Julian Hoeber – Going Nowhere Pavilion # 01
An artist whose practice moves between painting, installation, drawing and sculpture, Julian Hoeber created a mind-bending building made of concrete breeze blocks that works as an architectural Möbius strip—an expression of the relationship between built form and human psychology. The structure creates a spatial ambiguity and a disorienting feeling for anyone walking along its curves, as what is inside and outside can quickly become indiscernible. It attempts to analyze how forms can represent the logical, irrational, historical and corporeal experiences of human consciousness.
The work is located at 12878-12822 Eliseo Road, Desert Hot Springs (33.955493, -116.483245).
Kathleen Ryan – Ghost Palm
For her work for the biennial, Kathleen Ryan decided to echo the largest palm species native to California: the Desert Fan Palm. Rising 20 feet above the ground, it is constructed with man-made materials, with a tree trunk comprised of windowpanes from a Victorian-era greenhouse, the skirt from a mid-century chandelier and leaves recreated in the form of glittering plastics. The plastic pieces of this kinetic work act as wind chimes in the breeze, catching reflections of the sun like a faceted crystal. Repositioning itself in nature as homage, this man-made palm highlights the tension between natural forces and artificial structures.
The work is located at Bubbling Wells Road at San Gorgonio Street, Desert Hot Springs (33.945130, -116.485106).
All images are by Lance Gerber, courtesy of Desert X.