Desert X 2019: Art Mecca to The Salton Sea

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There’s still time, until April 21, to experience “Desert X,” a one-of-a-kind exhibit of 19 contemporary art installations scattered across 50 miles of the Coachella Valley desert, mostly known for its famous music festival and, now, this.

This year Desert X ( returns to greater Palm Springs and beyond. No walls, no cost, no barriers. Using the desert as a backdrop, visitors can immerse themselves in a setting where the canvas is the desert where contemporary artists project their visions and create their art on natural objects and landscapes.  

The span of these art exhibits and installations are scattered from Whitewater to the west and move east across the desert floor through Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio, Coachella, and Mecca.  

This is not a one-day show, as most of these installations are spread apart; it takes at least a weekend to see all 19 exhibits.

There are several options for viewing this artistic adventure. For techy types who want to use their iPhone navigation, a DIY guide is a hands-on, self-touring option. Complete with maps and interactive viewing on some of the exhibits, it’s easy to follow on the Desert X app.

Another option is a guided tour on a Desert X touring bus led by savvy volunteer docents. They have a great sense of the history of the land, as well a complete narrative of the artists, their art, and meanings behind the piece. Bus tours are mostly on the weekends. For schedules and prices:

I was fortunate to have a private tour with one of the docents who happens to be my niece, Brittany Campbell, who is the Assistant Producer and creator of the after-hour program at The Autry Museum in Los Angeles, scheduled for May 22 and June 19.

The Desert X installations embrace a range of ecological, environmental, and social issues. Here are four to inspire and entice adventurous art lovers.

The “Dive-In by Superflex,” stands as a reminder that the valley was once underwater. The structure, somewhat derivative of Stonehenge, displays a moving aquarium projected on a coral-textured-and-colored surface. It is a must-see at sunset and can only be viewed on Saturdays from 6-9 p.m.

Nancy Baker Cahill’s pieces are tech-driven, requiring the use of the Fourth Wall app on an iPhone or iPad. Be sure to download the app where there is WiFi before taking off to parts unknown. This augmented-reality experience produces the ever-changing climate conditions in the southernmost tip of the Salton Sea where the “Margin of Error” piece is displayed within the landscape. Images of cool giant digital work appear on the app by pointing the phone at the Desert X signage.

“A Point of View in Mecca,” Staircases by Ivan Argote. This daring vista of the Salton Sea with the snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains to the West, can only be viewed if you climb the poetic staircase engraved with verses in English and Spanish, as you ascend and descend onto each concrete step. Comfortable shoes and a good sense of balance are a must as you climb to this interactive vista upon the ancient Lake Cahuilla.  

“The Ghost Palm,” by Kathleen Ryan is a popular and fun exhibit that sits upon the San Andreas Fault. Entering from an ominous dirt road, follow the X toward a distant swaying, shiny silhouette against a Desert Hot Springs backdrop. This 20-foot “palm tree” is encased in plastic palm fronds with a Victorian-era windowpane trunk and glass-like mid-century chandelier shimmering and sparkling in the sun. This exhibit is a perfect boomerang moment for Instagrammers.

Experience for yourself the site-specific magic at Desert X’s Mecca of Art placed in the most unexpected places in an unpredictable environment amid the hustle and bustle of new restaurants and hotels, brightly colored modernism, the world-class Palm Springs Art Museum, architecture, old haunts where crooners and stars like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe lived and hung outand, of course, art installations that invite a merry trek through the desert to the Salton Sea.


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