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Built on Sand: Transitory Imprints at Desert X 2019

A neon orange, block-like structure awaits its final placement just off 111 Highway into Palm Springs. Not quite as big as a shipping container, but a massive presence nonetheless, the florescent monolith named SPECTER by artist Sterling Ruby, races against the clock. Hampered by heavy rains that doused the region only a few days prior to opening, the sculpture’s 11th hour installation puts a dramatic punctuation mark on the “timeless” landscape.

Perhaps that is what’s most striking about Desert X, now in its second outing in the Coachella Valley—the juxtaposition of the manmade and the natural. How each of the 19 installations initiates a break with continuity—coaxing us to pause, question or interject. Deposited in a region rooted in the past and entrenched in more than one cultural identity, these works of art contribute to an ongoing conversation of old and new, inherent and invasive, biological and manufactured, sacred and sanctimonious.

“While much of the work may aspire to timelessness, the underlying currents that ebb and flow seem anything but,” says Desert X 2019 artistic director Neville Wakefield. “From here amid the vast exhaustion of the desert we find, in the attention that the art demands we give it, the most sensitive barometers of our time.”

And vast it is. The exhibition spans 50 miles across the Coachella Valley and beyond, expanding to the south to explore the ecological bellwether of the Salton Sea, and further across the border into Mexico.

One of the first pieces visible to drivers breezing past the windmills off 111 as it turns into Palm Canyon Drive, Western Flag offers a digital simulation of Lucas Gusher, the world’s first major oil find, located in Spindletop, Texas. Though exhausted of its fossil fuel, the rig that Irish artist John Gerrard depicts simulates a flagpole spewing an endless stream of black smoke, “a reminder of not only willful exploitation and depletion of resources that millions of years ago covered this sea floor, but also the energy taken to return the deserted land to its current state of artificial habitation.”

With Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert, photographer and Chemehuevi tribal citizen Cara Romero superimposes young, native figures on modern, manmade realities of the desert landscape. Shown over a series of billboards as you drive north on Gene Autry Trail near Interstate 10, the work portrays four “time-travelling visitors” from Chemehuevi returning to the ancestral land of their sister tribes in Coachella Valley. The images offer “manifestations of an oral tradition, bringing visibility to the individuals, cultures and history that continue to inform this landscape, whether or not they have been privileged in the long arc of our collective story.”

For Colombian-born, Paris-based artist Iván Argote, art explores the relationships between politics and history that construct our public lives. With his sculptural installation A Point of View, Argote encourages the viewer to interact with his sculpture, a series of stairways that overlook a distant Salton Sea. Each step leading to the platform offers messages in both Spanish and English. Like a giant sundial, the collective sculptures represent “time in fragmentation” as the light and perspectives change throughout the day. While the Salton Sea lies in the horizon, the site marks the basin of Lake Cahuilla, an ancient water source that disappeared into the sand in the 17th century. The alignment of two bodies of water, one extinct and the other endangered, brings many of Argote’s reflections on time and scale full circle.

Standing beneath her arched sculpture in Palm Desert, Pia Camil describes how the colorful rebar of her Lover’s Rainbow re-inserts itself into the land. The piece is one of two, the other rooted across the Mexican border in Baja. The mirrored rainbows throw light into the current immigration policies, prompting the viewer to see things from two perspectives. “Going in search of the rainbow should highlight its symbolic power to re-establish hope, love and inclusiveness when we need it the most.”


Desert X Program Guide and Map

A special Desert X printed program and map of the 2019 installations will be produced by Palm Springs Life Magazine and will be available for the opening of the exhibition on February 9, and will be included in the March 2019 issue of the magazine. Visitors are also encouraged to visit for current information, directions and hours.

Desert X Hubs

Through April 21, 2019, visitors can pick up a map, browse information, purchase the newly released “Desert X 2017” catalog and view Encyclopedia (Desert X Edition), a new artificial intelligence (AI), created by Johannes Heldén in collaboration with Håkan Jonson.

The three Desert X Hubs are located across the valley at the following addresses:

 82713 Miles Avenue Indio, CA 92201

Palm Desert: 
73660 El Paseo
Palm Desert, CA 92260

Palm Springs
Ace Hotel & Swim Club: 701 E Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264

Bus Tours

Tickets for public bus tours at $75 are available every Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m. and at 2 p.m.


A new, first-time Desert X podcast series will explore the environmental, ecological and social themes in the 2019 Desert X exhibition. Acclaimed design journalist Frances Anderton will talk with artists and curators that are part of Desert X, and co-produce and edit the series with Avishay Artsy. Anderton hosts KCRW’s weekly radio show DnA: Design and Architecture; Artsy produces it. The Desert X podcast will be available, from the commencement of the exhibition, on iTunes, other podcast apps and at The series is presented by Lead Sponsor PROJECT EVELOZCITY, which is creating electric vehicles that will be available by subscription. The series is intended to be a modern take on a mobile audio tour to educate, inspire and entertain visitors as they drive and experience Desert X 2019.

Plan Your Visit

New partnerships with more than 25 local organizations, hotels and purveyors across the Coachella Valley will offer an array of special discounts to Desert X visitors. For further information and to plan your visit, go here.

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