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Desert X Pops Up in the Coachella Valley

Tour 13 fascinating outdoor art installations starting March 12

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Posted 6 months agoby Ann Marie Brown

The art biennial Desert X opens in the Greater Palms Springs area on March 12, bringing the works of international artists to outdoor sites across 40 miles of Southern California desert.

Desert X started in 2017 and is now in its third iteration. At past events, the free art exhibition has drawn thousands of visitors to the vast Coachella Valley desert to view the large-scale installations.

This year, artists from Egypt, Ghana, Poland, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and the United States have created 13 artworks, from billboards to mazes to equestrian sculptures, which will be on display at various sites in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and surrounding areas.

"As much as the desert is a state of place, it is also a state of mind,” says Desert X artistic director Neville Wakefield. “Its borders are not singular but multiple, and it is defined as much by social geography as physical boundary."

This year's themes include land rights and ownership, racial and gender diversity, and migration. Wakefield says the exhibits "explore the desert as a place where the marginalized and migratory—whose voices and histories may have struggled to manifest within the dominant discourses of growth and development—can also be heard."

Desert X founder and president Susan Davis calls the 2021 show "an exhibition for our times." She says the artists have created installations that "celebrate the Coachella Valley and its histories while provoking us to explore our commonalities and celebrate our differences."

Preview of the Works

The exact locations of the installations won't be revealed until March 12—go to the site for specifics—but here's a look at some of the works:

The Passenger by Eduardo Sarabia is a maze made from woven palm tree fibers designed to examine the desert as a migration border that connects peoples and cultures.

The Wishing Well by Serge Attukwei Clottey is a structure built from Kufuor gallons, which people in rural Ghana use to carry water to their villages and homes.

The Art of Taming Horses by Christopher Myers features six steel horse sculptures with flowing banners that tell the fictional story of two cowboys, one African-American and one Mexican.

Kim Stringfellow, the only Desert X artist from Southern California, created the diorama Jackrabbit Homestead to chronicle the lives of early homesteaders who participated in the Small Tract Act of 1938, which allowed people the chance to own five acres of desert land as long as they built a suitable structure on it.

As part of the nine-week-long exhibit, feminist artist Judy Chicago will present an installment of her Atmosphere performance-art series on April 9. Chicago will use colored smoke to momentarily transform and "feminize" the landscape without leaving a mark. Her performance will be livestreamed around the world by Desert X.

Desert X 2021 was originally slated to open on February 6, but organizers delayed the opening until California's stay-at-home restrictions were lifted. All visitors are required to follow pandemic protocols, including social distancing, mask wearing, and not touching the artwork. Volunteers will staff exhibit sites to ensure regulations are followed.

You can access a map with precise locations for each installation starting March 12 on the Desert X website or download the Desert X 2021 app. You can also pick up maps and information at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs.

Even if you can't come to the desert this spring, you can still take part in Desert X. The organizers plan to offer a series of online programs, including interviews with artists and curators. You can also watch the Desert X 2021 film, which will premiere across multiple platforms in late March to provide free access to the exhibition to audiences around the world.

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