In the arid Coachella Valley east of Los Angeles, concrete steps with messages in Spanish and English ascend to a platform that surveys the landscape above the Salton Sea, California's largest lake. At the other end of the valley, a rainbow made of painted rebar rises and then plunges into the land. Still farther north, a large fluorescent orange monolith stands out in stark contrast against the rocky slopes of mountains in San Gorgonio Pass.
The works of art are free and open to the public, installed as they are outdoors in a striking landscape. Desert X, the second occurance of a biennial festival, opened this past weekend, reports Janelle Zara for Art News.
The "the vacant real estate of architectural ruins and empty plots of land make excellent sites for installation," Zara writes. The curators this year chose artists who create work that address themes of climate change, migration and the legacies of indigenous people. Nineteen artists contributed works to the show.
As with most art, pictures cannot do the pieces justice. In this case, it is because the artists take into account the landscape their work occupies. Zara writes of the fluorescent orange monolith called "Specter" by multi-medium artist Sterling Ruby:
Instagram is already full of close-range photos that do the work no justice by framing it as a sculptural object. In person, it’s more of a painterly intervention that from the highway reads in only two dimensions. The bright square that grates against the jagged textures of its surroundings also works as a point of reference, lending itself as a focal point that emphasizes the profound beauty of the landscape.
Many of the works similarly tie into the land. The Danish collective Superflex created "Dive-In," a sculptural, building-like structure made of pink, pitted and pocked material that evokes ocean coral. A statement on the Desert X website reveals that the name of the valley comes from the word "conchilla," meaning little shell, when settlers found fossilized marine life from 6 million years ago upon moving to the valley. The work recognizes that "geological history and the not-so-distant future meet" when you consider the long-term effects climate change: "rising water levels will again submerge the landscape along with all the structure and infrastructure that made it habitable for humans." The collective aims to make pieces that will be "equally attractive to human and marine life."
In 2017, Desert X brought more than 200,000 visitors to the valley to see 16 works, reports Kristin Scharkey for the Palm Springs Desert Sun. Writing for Architectural Digest, John Gendall called the inaugural show "the world's newest must-visit art fair."
The exhibition, which runs through April 21, covers roughly 60 miles from the northern end of the Coachella Valley to the shores of the Salton Sea. Visitors can learn about the locations for each piece on the Desert X website—there's even a free Desert X app to help plot a road trip.