Desert X to bring the art fair circuit to Coachella Valley

Architecture Art Environment West
Ed Ruscha's Desert Gravure, 2006. (Ed Ruscha)

Ed Ruscha’s Desert Gravure, 2006. (Ed Ruscha)

File under “X.” A new happening is coming to California’s high desert. Slated to open in February 2017, Desert X is “three-month site-specific international contemporary art exhibition,” aka, an arid art event timed to align with Palm Spring’s Modernism Week as well as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The Sunnylands Visitors Center in Palm Springs designed by Frederick Fisher. (Courtesy Palm Springs Modernism Week)

The Sunnylands Visitors Center in Palm Springs designed by Frederick Fisher. (Courtesy Palm Springs Modernism Week)

Writer and curator Neville Wakefield, known for curating site-specific works, will serve as inaugural artistic director. It’s promised that his knack for engaging alternative spaces will be on view as artists install in non-traditional spaces—one might expect landscape interventions a la High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree—as well as more conventional settings such as the Palm Springs Art Museum, a late modern design by architect E. Stewart Williams and A. Quincy Jones’ midcentury Sunnylands Center & Gardens, renovated by Frederick Fisher and Partners in 2012.

“The desert has long exercised its fascination over the minds of artists, architects, musicians, writers and other explorers of landscape and soul,” noted Wakefield.

Artistic director Neville Wakefield (Courtesy Desert X)

Artistic director Neville Wakefield (Courtesy Desert X)

He sets a high bar for the commissioned art works, asking that they simultaneously reflect the ideals and politics of the contemporary art world and respond to the desert context. The press release suggests that the pieces will “amplify and cast a gimlet eye on the geographies, ethnic/social and historical/geologic layers that exist in the southern California desert, while also looking to major movements in contemporary art world-wide.”

Desert X executive director Susan Davis .(Courtesy Desert X)

Desert X executive director Susan Davis .(Courtesy Desert X)

The exact hows and whos of Desert X remain a vast and unknowable mystery, to borrow the evocative language of the press materials. “The landscape of harsh desert, high mountains, lush golf courses and a vanishing sea, holds a rich history and maintains mythical proportions in the narrative of the American West—one that includes ancient Indian tribes, prospectors, pioneers, and cowboys,” explained Susan Davis, Desert X founder and board president. “We see Desert X as unique in shining a spotlight on the rich preexisting architectural, natural and cultural legacies of the area, while offering the public a way to explore, activate and interrogate current, timely and historic issues through contemporary, creative practices.”

However, Desert X’s board is well connected to the regional, national, and international arts organizations, including major arts institutions, such as Whitney Museum of American Art, the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, the New Museum, the Hammer Museum, the Serpentine Galleries, and Creative Time.

The truth is out there: Wakefield will share his vision and plans for the inaugural exhibition on January 29, 2016 as part of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2016.

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