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Desert Tripping at Desert X

I don’t need a reason to go out to the desert, but between a Kills show at Pappy and Harriet’s and an outdoor, multi-location art installation there was no stopping me.  Post scene report: The Kills slayed Pappy’s and the inaugural Desert X did not disappoint.

Set to a backdrop of crystal blue skies and endless desert landscape, Desert X took over the Coachella Valley at the end of February.  The site specific installations scattered around the low desert provide a sculptural scavenger hunt for art enthusiasts from all backgrounds.  Just as impressive as the work itself is the “openness” of the event – a quality that public art provides so readily.  There is no barrier to entry.  No dress code.  Art critics and collectors, guys on break from their office jobs, and families stopping off on their way to the water park all have equal opportunity to check out Doug Aitken, Will Boone and Richard Prince.

One day is not enough to take in all 15 sites.  A nice, leisurely, two days would be perfect.  Start at the Desert X Hub at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club and be on your way.

This is what we saw:

Not far off the 10FWY, on Gene Autry, Jennifer Bolande commandeered three billboards for Desert X.  You almost won’t see them because they do what billboards DON’T: celebrate the landscape that is around them. Jennifer’s “Visible Distance/Second Sight” replaces the shouty billboard spaces with the mountains and desert floor that the boards block.  Much nicer.

Jennifer Bolande "Visible Distance/Second Sight" photo: Lance Gerber

Jennifer Bolande “Visible Distance/Second Sight” photo: Lance Gerber

I have been following Phillip K Smith III since his “Lucid Stead” installation in Joshua Tree in 2013, so I was eager to get to “The Circle of Land and Sky”.  Smith’s dive into light, color and space always wins in my book. This piece felt like a tribal sacred space… made of the most cyber-stealth material.  The 300 mirrored posts angled at 10 degrees reflect the desert in the round. With spectacular sunrise, sunsets and shifting desert floor, the installation can’t be seen the same way twice. Go more than once.

Phillip K Smith III "The Circle of Land and Sky"

Phillip K Smith III “The Circle of Land and Sky” photo: Stacy Conde

If we’re going to build a wall, this is the only one I’m supporting.  Claudia Comte‘s “Curves and Zig Zags” breaks up the sandy desert palette with geometric lines that, when viewed straight on, look flat; but saunter over to the side and you’ll see that this piece is both sculpture and mural.  The wall is is specific to Claudia’s painting and it transforms the hard lines into a more organic wave as the view shifts.

Claudia Comte "Curves and Zig Zags" photo: Stacy Conde

Claudia Comte “Curves and Zig Zags” photo: Stacy Conde

In true scavenger hunt style, it was not easy to find Will Boone‘s “Underground American Monument”; but that’s because we weren’t using the very helpful Desert X digital map (note: use the map).  This was the most interactive of the sites that we checked out.  Climbing down a hatch that warns: “you assume any and all risk of injury and or death that may occur” appeals to my dark side.  So down the hatch we went.  I’m going to leave it at that because this one is fun and it’s better to be somewhat surprised.  There are spoilers out there, but I don’t want to be one of them.

Will Boone "Underground American Monument" photo: Stacy Conde

Will Boone “Underground American Monument” photo: Stacy Conde

Will Boone "Underground American Monument" photo: Stacy Conde

Will Boone “Underground American Monument” photo: Stacy Conde

In an abandoned shed way out in Indio, Glenn Kaino blew our minds with “Hollow Earth”.  Peering down a very deep-looking hole with just a slip of acrylic between us and infinity is unnerving, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away.  We knew it wasn’t “real”, but it sure looked like you could trip and fall through to some other dimension… and according to the project description, that dimension would be “me”.  The series of mirrors that construct the sculpture not only create the illusion of the tunnel, but also reflect the viewer. Way meta. A bit too complex for my day in the desert.  I’m happy with just believing that tunnel goes to Australia.  Be sure to email ahead to get the door lock code.

Glenn Kaino "Hollow Earth" photo: Stacy Conde

Glenn Kaino “Hollow Earth” photo: Stacy Conde

On the way out of town, nestled in the refreshing Whitewater Preserve, Sherin Guirguis built a structure that I need to know more about.  It is modeled after traditional pigeon towers found throughout the desert villages in Egypt.  The method of construction, the materials and the design all fit the environment so well.  I hope they never take it down.  Stopping off to wade in the ice cold snow melt pool in this artful oasis made for a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Sherin Guirguis "One I Call" photo: Stacy Conde

Sherin Guirguis “One I Call” photo: Stacy Conde

Sherin Guirguis "One I Call" photo: Stacy Conde

Sherin Guirguis “One I Call” photo: Stacy Conde

Curated by Neville Wakefield and produced by Desert Biennial, Desert X is on view thru April 30th.  For more details visit

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