Exhibit of the week
Desert X 2019
Ruby’s Specter: You never know what you’ll find in the desert.
Coachella Valley, Calif., through April 21
It’s no mirage—and “more than just an art exhibition,” said Liddy Berman in ArchitecturalDigest.com. A 60-mile-long stretch of California desert in and around Palm Springs has again sprouted new, eye-buzzing artworks. Desert X, the popular art biennial launched in 2017 to coincide with the Coachella Music Festival, has returned, offering another sun-drenched experience that’s “half spiritual walkabout and half fine-art treasure hunt.” For those driving in from Los Angeles, “the natural jumping-off point” is Sterling Ruby’s Specter, a beacon-bright, 8-foot-high fluorescent orange box at the trail’s westernmost end that “seems to wink in and out of existence as one approaches.” That work and various others are “intensely Instagrammable,” yet demand to be seen in person. Because they are powerful in ways that words can’t capture, they offer “a journey into our beliefs and our perception of the world.”
Though you “almost certainly” need more than a day to visit all the sites, “the rewards are considerable,” said Sarah Cascone in ArtNet.com. The arid Coachella Valley becomes unexpectedly fertile with history, culture, and ideas. Nancy Baker Cahill builds on the tradition of desert-based land art with works visible only with a smartphone app: Point your phone in the right direction and you’ll see above the landscape a swirling cloud of shadow and light. Elsewhere, “that California icon, the gas station,” gets a makeover from Eric N. Mack and 2,300 feet of colorful fabric that he’s draped around one such abandoned pit stop. Compared with the inaugural Desert X, unfortunately, this edition offers “fewer must-see pieces and more half-baked, research-driven works,” said Jori Finkel in The Art Newspaper. Sure, it’d be fun to join artists Steve Badgett and Chris Taylor out on their pontoon boat as they navigate the valley’s shrinking Salton Sea and document the life-forms and detritus they find there. But “the actual work produced is rather meager”—a few videos and sonar images. Is this art or a science project?
Mexico’s Pia Camil strikes the right balance between making a scene and making a statement, said Cynthia Rosenfeld in Surface magazine. Camil’s Lover’s Rainbow is a two-part installation, and only one of its candy-colored 40-foot-tall arcs, both made of rebar, stands in Coachella Valley. Its twin, invisible to Desert X visitors, rises many miles across the border in Ensenada, Mexico, and thus exists “like a phantom limb,” a silent reminder that a better, more peaceful future is possible for the people who occupy this ancient and currently contentious stretch of land. Such political messaging fights the desert’s soothing qualities, but don’t let that bother you. “If the activist themes begin to take their toll, you can always kick off to the spa. This is Palm Springs, after all.” ■