Desert X outdoor art exhibition is now open in Southern California’s desert cities

"The Passenger" by artist Eduardo Sarabia is one of the most popular installations at Desert X 2021. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

Coachella Valley, Calif. — The third installment  of the Desert X outdoor art exhibition is now on display at various sites across the Coachella valley in California. There are 11 art installations on display created by 13 different artists for this edition of Desert X.

If you are coming from Los Angeles, your GPS will most likely tell you to take the Highway 111 exit off Interstate 10. That’s where you’ll notice one of the big art installations called “Never Forget.” It is a giant sign with 40-foot letters that spell out “Indian Land” and resembles the famous Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles.

“We really liked the ‘Indian Land’ one because when we showed up, we weren’t expecting to see it,” said attendee Jeff McCobb from North Hollywood, Calif. “We were heading towards another installation. When you get off the freeway, it’s just there. So we were like, oh that’s rad. It’s kind of the reason we came out here. You saw a photo of it online and we’re like, oh, let’s go see the art. Then, suddenly it’s in your face. It’s large and the social commentary is interesting.”

It is important to remember that a large majority of the Coachella Valley is land partially owned by Indian tribes such as Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Look for Never Forget near the intersection of Highway 111 and Tramview Road in Palm Springs.

“While this exhibition is not about a global pandemic, it is shaped by one,” said Desert X Co-Curator César García-Alvarez. “To give us glimpses of the world that will come after. Nearly all of the artists in the show made on or more site visits. We couldn’t be more proud of this edition of Desert X. Our hope is that you encounter these projects and find yourself somehow in them.”

One of the first stops I made was to check out “Tamanrasset” by artist Vivian Suter. It is basically a collection of large-scale watercolor paintings that are located inside a modernist building. Suter used colors to create moods, shapes to reference natural formations and landmarks and exposed the canvases to the natural elements to generate textures. Her paintings are also lit up at night for a totally different experience. Visit Tamanrasset at 333 S. Palm Canyon Rd. in Palm Springs.

“She was born in Argentina but currently works out of Guatemala,” said Desert X volunteer-tour guide Mark Farina. “Her art style would be a series of paintings but she works in a natural style. She works outdoors so the paintings tend to collect residue from being outside. She was given the idea of what would you produce if you could show in the California desert so these are her reflections of the California desert.”

Desert X is one of the first new art exhibits to open in California amid the covid 19 pandemic. Museums are still closed in many parts of the state to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. There are signs throughout the exhibit to remind attendees to wear masks and stay socially distanced. In addition, I noticed hand sanitizing stations near each art installation.

Two of the art installations are so popular with crowds that they now require free timed reservations from Thursday through Sunday. That includes Alicia Kwade’s “ParaPivot” and Eduardo Sarabia’s “The Passenger.” Walk-up guests will be accommodated if time and space allow.

“The Passenger” is an arrow tip-shaped maze inspired by the trope of the journey, that for generations, has been closely bound to stories of the desert. Made from the walls of petates–traditional rugs woven from palm fibers–The Passenger speaks to the challenges and aspirations that encourage journeys and pays tribute to the people who have embarked upon them. Visit The Passenger near Frank Sinatra Drive and Portola Avenue in Palm Desert, Calif.

Reserve your timed ticket here for The Passenger

“ParaPivot” (sempiternal clouds) is one of my favorite art installations of Desert X. It consists of interlocking frames supporting large blocks of white marble that appear as ice calved from a distant glacier. Time and space become distorted as rocks pulled from 200 million years ago levitate into the clear blue sky. This one requires a bit of a hike up a large hill just north of Interstate 10. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes and a water bottle for this one. Visit ParaPivot at 71690 Channel Run Rd. in Sky Valley, Calif.

Reserve your timed ticket here for ParaPivot

Another art installation that I enjoyed was “The Wishing Well” by artist Serge Attukwei Clottey. From a distance, this one looks like two square blocks of hay. As you approach it, you realize it’s something different. The Wishing Well is a sculptural installation of large-scale cubes draped with sheets of woven pieces of yellow plastic Kufuor gallons that were used to transport water in Ghana. It is a reminder that water is becoming more scarce in desert cities. Visit The Wishing Well at 480 W. Tramview Rd. in Palm Springs.

I also checked out “Jackrabbit Homestead” by artist Kim Stringfellow. This one looks like a tiny home that was placed on an empty plot of land in the desert. The 122-square-foot cabin she created trades the stark solitary romanticism of sand and sky for a small patch of sprawl nestled between the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce and a CVS Pharmacy. Her goal was to make this art installation a discussion about class, sustainability, capitalism, public land, and the commons. Visit Jackrabbit Homestead at 72559 Highway 111 in Palm Desert, Calif.

My last art installation that I visited was “What Lies Behind the Walls” by artist Zahrah Alghamdi. This one also requires a small hike but it is on flat land so it should be easier to get to. When looking at it from a distance, I first thought it was stacks of leather or some type of clothing material. However, it is actually made with particles of earth, clay, rocks, leather and water. Her goal was to create a sculpture that echoes and synthesizes the traditionally built forms from her country of Saudi Arabia with the architectural organization that she found in the Coachella Valley. Visit What Lies Behind the Walls on Pierson Boulevard between Foxdale Drive and Miracle Hill Road in Desert Hot Springs, Calif.

“With a lot of these pieces out here, you are trying to grapple with the social commentary on a lot of them,” McCobb explained. There’s a lot of talk about indigneous folks that are overlooked. I think a lot of the artists are Native. This is a spectacle in itself. I like the idea outside of the festival if you just walked through the desert and you saw something like this. You know how impactful that would be?”

I also stopped to check out “Because You Know Ultimately We Will Band A Militia” by artist Xaviera Simmons. This one is basically a series of billboards about social justice along Gene Autry Trail. One of the billboards reads “Freedom is Not Guaranteed” while another says “Rupture Your Guilt Amnesia.” This art installation is located along a busy road with a very narrow shoulder to pull off the road and take photos. Be safe if you plan to visit this one since there is no parking lot there. Visit Because You Know Ultimately We Will Band A Militia along Gene Autry Trail between Via Escuela and Interstate 10 in Palm Springs.

Some of the art installations were not finished during my visit. First, I attempted to locate Christopher Myers’ “The Art of Taming Horses” but had no luck. It is supposed to feature six sculptures of horses along with draping banners that tell the stories of two ranchers–one Mexican and one African-American–whose personal adversities and love for raising horses led them to create a welcoming community in the place that eventually would become Palm Springs. The second installation that I could not find was “Frequencies” by artist Oscar Murillo. The Desert X app indicated that it would go on display starting in early April. However, it has been removed from the app all together.

Also, it is important to note the Sunnylands art installation is only open until 4 p.m. I arrived at 4:15 p.m. and was unaware that it would be unavailable for viewing past that time. That installation is called “Women’s Qualities” by artist Ghada Amer. For Desert X, Amer asked men and women in the Coachella Valley to share words that describe the qualities with which they identify and to which they have been ascribed. The result is a grouping of words arranged on the circular Great Lawn at Sunnylands.

“Any exhibition of contemporary art cannot happen with that artists,” said Desert X Artistic Director Neville Wakefield. “Landscapes are also social, historical and cultural constructs. Desert X 2021 imagines desert is both place and idea. Many of the works in this show also delivered in the ways in which time shapes experience.”

The entire Desert X art experience is free and open to the public. In total, it spans across 40 miles of the California desert. 

I greatly enjoyed my visit to Desert X. I was unable to visit the first two editions so for me it was cool to see the third. The art was very interesting and unique. I greatly enjoyed going to the different locations and exploring what was there. Something new and exciting at each stop!

Desert X will remain on view through May 16, 2021. For more info, visit the official website at desertx.org


Video by Jason Rzucidlo / AmericaJR

“The Wishing Well” by artist Serge Attukwei Clottey (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
“Never Forget” by artist Nicholas Galanin is located near the Palm Springs Tramway entrance. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
“Tamanrasset” by artist Vivian Suter features watercolor paintings in downtown Palm Springs. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
“Jackrabbit Homestead” by artist Kim Stringfellow looks like a modern tiny home. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
Attendees checking out “What Lies Behind the Walls” by artist Zahrah Alghamdi (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)
One of my favorite art installations is “ParaPivot” (sempiternal clouds) by artist Alicja Kwade. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

ADVERTISEMENT