Desert X Literally Reflects the Desert

Music comes to the valley in the form of the Coachella Music Festival. Film is represented by the Coachella Valley International Film Festival. Now, art has a biennial foothold in the area with Desert X.

April 13, 2017
Each year, the Coachella Music Festival brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to California—to Indio in the Colorado Desert to be exact—to witness performances by some of the music world’s biggest names. It is one of the most anticipated music festivals of the year; so popular, in fact, that Coachella now takes place over two weekends. Imagine then, what an amazing opportunity it is to be able to add an immersive art program in the form of a biennial art festival to the desert showcase that is Coachella.

Desert X was born of an intention to highlight the unique environment of the Coachella, presenting contemporary art in an accessible format throughout the desert. A murmur and idea became a conversation that eventually (this year) became a reality. Festival founder/president Susan Davis conceived the idea while working as editorial director of communications at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands: “We have a nice art museum and a lot of collectors here, but there wasn’t a way to focus attention on visual arts.”

The Desert X team enlisted curator Neville Wakefield as Creative Director for the inaugural festival, drawing on his experience with site-specific works in a variety of outdoor art festivals around the world, including MoMA PS1 and Art Basel, as well as his network of some of the most relevant contemporary artists working today. Neville has assembled an installation group show on an immense scale from 20 upcoming and well-known artists including Doug Aitken, Philip K Smith III, Jennifer Bolande, and Will Boone. The site-specific works address many overlapping themes familiar to the desert environment: tourism, tribal cultures, climate change, and immigration. Stretching 45 miles into the Coachella Valley, the festival is a scavenger hunt of art in the desert, open for all to view until the last weekend of the nearby Coachella Music Festival.

2magazine has picked a few gems from the desert for you to admire:

Curves and Zig-Zags, Claudia Comte
“Curves and Zigzags is the third work from an ongoing series of free-standing walls that straddle painting and sculpture. Comte’s practice embraces all media with equal ferocity and she uses this series to examine what happens when two-dimensional painting is superimposed on three dimensional structure. Unlike graffiti artists her walls are built specifically for the work they carry. In Curves and Zigzags, the painting starts with a stringent geometric composition that gradually morphs into a more organic wave like pattern reminiscent of Bridget Riley optical paintings or the gardens of Burle Marx. Playing on the constant exchange of dualities – nature and culture, order and chaos, geometric and organic form – Comte’s wall suggests a walk through the shifting sands of abstraction and on to a place where beauty and contemplation sit side by side.”

Mirage, Doug Aitken
“In the tradition of land-art as a reflection of the dreams and aspirations projected onto the America West, Mirage presents a continually changing encounter in which subject and object, inside and outside are in constant flux. The ranch-style structure suggests a latter-day architectural version of manifest destiny, a primary structure rendered by the artist without function service or texture. With every available surface clad in mirror it both absorbs and reflects the landscape around in such ways that the exterior will seemingly disappear just as the interior draws the viewer into a never-ending kaleidoscope of light and reflection. As Mirage pulls the landscape in and reflects it back out, this classic one-story suburban house becomes a framing device, a perceptual echo-chamber endlessly bouncing between the dream of nature as pure uninhabited state and the pursuit of its conquest.”
Image: instagram @_desertx

The Circle of Land and Sky, Phillip K Smith III
“The Circle of Land and Sky defines a reflective space within the desert, composed entirely of the environment’s two most prominent physical characteristics -- land and sky. Formed by 300 geometric reflectors angled at 10 degrees, the artwork directly engages with the Sonoran surrounding and the endless heavens.  As the light shifts and the viewer moves through the installation, land and sky are separated, merged, and displaced, subverting one’s assumed relationship with the desert horizon. At times, the sky is pulled down to the land or the land lifted up to the sky, while the colors of the west may merge with the colors of the east. It is a constantly changing installation that can never be seen the same way twice.”