Art Adventures in Palm Springs: Desert X19


I recently traveled to the Palm Springs area to see the second installation of Desert X. If you're not familiar with the exhibition, it's large scale works of art scattered throughout the Coachella Valley, and with this year extending all the way to the Salton Sea. Creating a sort of art fueled scavenger hunt. With the addition of a Desert X app, it's a little easier to find the works this time around. But then again, the journey is part of the enjoyment, right?

Last time around, there were pieces by art world heavy hitters like Richard Prince, Doug Aitken and Tavares Strachan.  This time it's a little less flashy but still worth the trip. The following are my favorites:

Katie Ryan Ghost Palm Desert X19 Palm Desert Palm Tree

Kathleen Ryan Ghost Palm Desert X19
Location: Desert Hot Springs. Bubbling Wells Rd at San Gorgonio Street.
First up, Kathleen Ryan's Ghost Palm. She creates large-scale sculptural works often made with heavy duty industrial materials such as plastic, steel and glass sculpted to mimic organic life forms. It was a very windy day when we visited, and the wind was blowing through the palm fronds and trunk bringing the Frankenstein palm to life.

Kathleen Ryan Ghost Palm Desert X 19 Desert Hot Springs

Coming in at over twenty feet tall, the palm tree is fairly imposing in person. It's tiered trunk creates a kind of regal chandelier. A recreation of the Washingtonia Filifera (Desert Fan Palm), the largest palm species native to California. Since the palm is made of transparent plastic and glass, it more or less blends in with the surrounding environment. Glimmers of sunlight, make it twinkle and animate it from the harsh landscape. I liked this piece but wished there were a few more of the ghost palms to give it more context. Personally, it would have made more of an impact to have a cluster of ghost palms, rather than just the one considering the large scale of the surrounding desert. It was most likely cost and labor prohibitive but would have been amazing!

 

Cara Romero Billboards Palm Springs Desert X 19

Cara Romero: Jackrabbit Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert
Location: Drive north on Gene Autry Trail, between Via Escuela and Interstate 10, Palm Springs.
Cara Romero's digital photography responds to the ancestral lands of the Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Serrano and Mojave people. The billboards feature images of four time traveling visitors from Chemehuevi who have come to the ancestral lands of their sister tribes in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs is a new city located in the ancestral lands of the Cahuillas with a rich history that predates colonization.
 
cara romero desert x 19 billboards palm springs
Romero's photographs are striking but the billboards are a little difficult to find. They are visible only when traveling in the opposite direction, we had to go a ways to turn around to get up close to see them. Then you have to pull over on the side of the bustling highway, (Raf wasn't a fan of this move since safety was a concern) and walk fairly close to each one to really get to see them clearly. It would have been a lot easier to view if they were facing you as you drove past. I'm assuming that it either had something to do with cost of the placement or that the sun would be behind them which wouldn't be great for photographing. After we left, the billboards were temporarily closed because of the February storms, hopefully they are back open now.
Mary Kelly Peace is the Only Shelter yellow bus stop Palm Springs desert x 19

 Mary Kelly: Peace Is the Only Shelter  Location: 333 S.Palm Drive, 469-499 S Indian Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive

"Although the radical peace initiatives of women in the early post-war period have been largely forgotten, the action-oriented interventions of the Women Strike for Peace set a precedent for the non-hierarchical politics of second-wave feminism, as well as the many prominent protest movements currently underway"  - Mary Kelly.
Her fascination with Cold War era Peace activism and the anti-nuclear Women Strike for Peace of 1961 inspired Mary Kelly to explore these themes. Between 1945 and 1992, the United States conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests, mostly in the Southwestern desert. She created these bus shelters with a Doomsday Clock, whose hands click closer to our eventual self-destruction.  

Mary Kelly Peace is our only shelter doomsday clock desert x 19 Palm Springs

 Mary Kelly: Peace is the Only Shelter (Doomsday Clock)

The day we visited Kelly was there filming a video segment. She was very friendly and approachable, taking the time to explain the piece and her motivation behind it. It had taken a while to find them initially, because the addresses on the Desert X app were wrong. Hopefully by now they've been fixed!

 

Mary Kelly peace is our only shelter palm springs desert x 19 view with palm trees

  Mary Kelly: Peace is the Only Shelter

These were the only Desert X works that were open and on the street in Palm Springs. (The Cinthia Marcelle installations down the street were locked storefronts) Unfortunately, one had already been tagged - and it was the very first day! I wonder how it's held up over the past month...

 

Janna Conner and son at ace hotel Palm Springs ca

Janna Conner Jasia Gold Hoop Earrings

Next stop, to the Ace to pick up the Desert X catalog. While the app is helpful, it's nice to have the catalogue to give further context. They have a suite selling merch with knowledgeable volunteers who can help steer you towards the best viewing strategy.  Had a quick snack at the poolside bar, the staff is friendly the food is good and reasonably priced, and that afternoon desert afternoon light  is 👌🏼

desert x catalog and ace hotel bar menu Palm Springs

 

John Gerrard Western Flag  Spindletop Texas Palm Springs visitor center at dusk

John Gerrard: Western Flag (Spindletop Texas) Location: Park at Palm Springs Visitor Center
John Gerrard is known for creating real-time simulated images set against austere landscapes. Western Flag depicts the site of the world's first major oil find, now barren and exhausted. 

 

Western Flag Spindletop John Gerrard Desert X 19 Palm Springs Vistor Center

John Gerrard: Western Flag (Spindletop Texas) Location: Park at Palm Springs Visitor Center
We arrived at dusk, and people were quietly milling around viewing the  LED screen. It was a peaceful moment and striking in contrast with the surrounding landscape. The giant screen viewed purple on my iPhone (shown above) but in person looked more like the first picture above and below.

 

John Gerrard Western Flag Spindletop Texas Desert X 19 Palm Springs Janna Conner and son
 
John Gerrard: Western Flag (Spindletop Texas) 
desert hot springs spa and resort sign palm desert

 Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel

We stayed at the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel out in Desert Hot Springs, partially because I'd never spent much time in that area and wanted to try something new and because they boast eight natural hot mineral spring pools. They range in temperature from 80 - 104+ which was the only way you were going to get me in the pool in February!

I knew that getting Dries to look at art all day long would be a tough sell so I had to sweeten the deal with the promise of some pool time. Dries loved it and would run from one pool to the other testing out the temps. The rooms are due for a bit of a stye refresh but they're very clean and functional. Will definitely be back, it's a very reasonably priced, family friendly place.

 

Julian hoeber going nowhere pavilion moebius desert x desert hot springs
 Julian Hoeber: Going Nowhere Pavilion #01 and Executed Variant DHS #1
Location: Eliseo Road, Desert Hot Springs
Julian hoeber going nowhere pavilion desert x 19 palm desert

 

 Julian Hoeber: Going Nowhere Pavilion #01 and Executed Variant DHS #1
Location: Eliseo Road, Desert Hot Springs
This piece was located in a residential area, across from a spa. It took us a few tours around the neighborhood to find it. Going Nowhere Pavilion is a Mobius strip made from concrete breeze blocks in a terra-cotta color. We walked through it and peered through the peepholes. My favorite part was the shadows it cast on the dirt exterior. It wasn't located in the most scenic area, surrounded by power lines and tract homes. Unfortunately it was freezing and incredibly windy when we visited so we sadly had to cut our visit short. 
sterling ruby specter fluorescent orange block in desert x 19 whitewater ca Palm Springs
Sterling Ruby: Specter
Location: 98-2 Snowcreek Canyon Road, Whitewater
As with Ugo Rondinone's Seven Magic Mountains, Sterling Ruby's fluorescent day glow cube is visible from the 10 freeway and possibly from space. Simple in form but visual arresting, this piece looks stunning in any light; whether it is bright desert sun or a sudden downpour of rain. Dodging rain clouds and fierce winds, we pulled up to this piece off of the highway. We saw two cars stuck in the sand - lesson learned Mini Coopers shouldn't off-road. 
Sterling Ruby Specter Desert X19 Palm Springs fluorescent orange block people jumping
Sterling Ruby: Specter
This was taken a few minutes before we were caught in an epic sandstorm. Epic is a descriptor that my son likes to use freely- sprinkling it in about any sentence he can. In this case, it was an apt interpretation. Sand in my glasses, hair, shoes, clothes, pockets...everywhere. But it was worth it and a reminder of why Desert X is so unique. You are viewing the artworks in a constantly changing environment, the weather and the people viewing it all create a completely unique experience every time. For better or for worse, that might mean teeny boppers in denim cutoffs and crop tops in February giving their best fish lipped selfie. But hey, I like to think that art makes the world a better place, so the more people see and interact with it, the better.
sterling ruby specter orange block in desert x19 two people standing with sand storm Palm Springs
Sterling Ruby: Specter
 
That haze you see above in the sky is the sandstorm I was referring to! The giant fluorescent block seems like a shipping container photoshopped in the desert. It makes for a dramatic juxtaposition with the barren land. 
Janna Conner with wind turbines Palm Springs large clouds
Next up, off to the wind turbines to see augmented reality installation Nancy Baker Cahill's Revolutions. This one is only viewable with her app, 4th Wall. I made the mistake of starting the download on the way to Palm Springs from LA, which wouldn't work because it can only download initially with wi-fi. Then our hotel's wifi took forever to finish it, which is why we ended up seeing this on day two. Some viewers were milling about confused and ended up leaving because they didn't have the app downloaded. Without it you are just looking at the turbines. Which is also nice but not the same thing. My advice: download before you leave home!
Nancy baker Cahill revolutions desert x19 Palm Springs wind turbines
Nancy Baker Cahill: Revolutions
Location: Off of Highway 111 and Tipton Road, North of Palm Springs
You can only view the virtual reality drawing with the use of the 4th wall app. After opening the app, you hold up your smartphone and view through it. With it, you can either take videos or still photos like the one above. It's the effect of drawing splotches and mini explosions of color onto the moving landscape as they swirl around in the sky. Dries liked this piece the best. It reminded me of Pokemon Go, except without the Pokemon and actually think it would have benefited  from some form of pop up animation or humans or something besides the rainbow pattern.
Nancy baker Cahill 4th wall app LA River Arroyo Seco Pasadena Janna Conner
Shot of the LA River at the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena using the 4th Wall App.
After I returned home, I debated whether I would erase the app or not as I thought it only worked in the site specific locations. I tried it out on a recent walk in the Arroyo and was impressed to see it worked there as well. 
Nancy baker Cahill 4th wall app with raf Niclaes and mini dachshund Junior in arroyo second
Raf and Junior framed with the 4th Wall App in the Arroyo Seco, Pasadena
 Nancy Baker Cahill has two installations for Desert X19, one in Salton Sea and the other north of Palm Springs. Due to inclement weather, they had to move the Virtual Reality installation. The current location is listed above. 
pia Camil lover's rainbow desert x rancho mirage
Pia Camil: Lover's Rainbow
Location: Across from the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111 Rancho Mirage
Mexican artist Pia Camil's piece is made out of rainbow hued painted rebar, with one in Rancho Mirage and the other located across the border in Baja, Mexico. Spotlighting America's ongoing struggles with it's immigration policies with a hopeful filter of love and inclusion. 
pia Camil lover's rainbow rancho mirage desert x family under the rainbow arch
Pia Camil: Lover's Rainbow
iman issa surrogates sunny lands rancho mirage desert x19 figures standing
Iman Issa: Surrogates, A Film About Things To Be Used, In Order of Appearance, By Self or Others, For Touching Upon Larger, Insidious or Different Things
Location: Sunnylands Center and Gardens 37977 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage
When I first saw this, I'll admit I was confused. It is titled as a film but all I saw was an undulating piece of wire that meandered into a battery looking like conductor. It reminded me of the bits and bobs my son brings home from his robotics class.  Turns out it's a film set prop and has an accompanying piece of text describing the scene in the film the prop is in. Iman Issa's work will be featured in the upcoming Whitney Biennial this summer.
Sunnylands living room figures on couch with backgammon board Janna Conner
Fancy a game of backgammon?
The first time I visited Sunnylands was last Desert X to see the Lidia Albuquerque  piece on exhibit. I fell in love. I like to envision living there and how amazing it would be! Free entry with stunning gardens and landscaping, it houses a cute little cafe outside that you can sit and have a snack in while enjoying the amazing weather and view. Family friendly, on Sundays they have horseshoes, hula hoops, and large scale foam building blocks, costumes and jump ropes strewn about the lawn for kids to play with. 
Have you been to Desert X or are you planning on visiting? Tell me below in the comments!

20 comments


  • Hilde

    I wish I was there too with you all! But with all your pictures and explanations it is like I was there!!! Thanks 😘 omi


  • JAM

    I love how you’re exploring all that Cali has to offer for inspiration. How will this trip influence your gorgeous designs? Can’t wait to see!


  • Elle (CleverlyChanging)

    My favorite photo that you shared was the recreation of the Washingtonia Filifera (Desert Fan Palm). The structure looks incredibly beautiful and I can on imagine how it would appear in person.


  • Janice

    Wow, love the desert and would love to make a trip out there to see Desert X. Your pictures really make the exhibit come to life!


  • joann busuttil

    Better late than never…I loved your photos. They were amazing. I’m wondering if the art even looks as good in person.
    Will you take me next time? Sounds like you’ve got the ropes down!


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