Visiting Desert X, Coachella Valley’s Contemporary Art Exhibition

Coachella Valley is about more than just its star-studded music festival. It has a vibrant art scene embodied by the biennial Desert X exhibition. Every other spring, the desert comes to life for two months with installations created by international contemporary artists. The artworks are scattered throughout the region from the Salton Sea to Palm Springs and are best located by their coordinates. It’s like an art scavenger hunt!

I first heard about Desert X from a friend who was showing her artwork in a Palm Springs gallery that was coinciding their event with the larger exhibition. I spent the weekend in the area and  saw five of the Desert X installations that were nearby. The art is spread across 40 miles, so planning is key. There’s just no way to see everything in just one day.

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Here’s what we saw

We literally braved a sandstorm to have a look at Sterling Ruby’s Specter. The vibrant orange installation is right off of the 111 Highway near Snow Creek. When we arrived, the scene was chaos. Two cars were stuck in the soft sand that blew across the parking area and everyone was covering their faces from the wind. The sandstorm actually made the installation seem even more dreamlike. It accentuated the contrast between the natural monochromatic landscape and neon artwork that looked so out of place in the desert.

Desert X artwork - Lost and Abroad

Pia Camil’s colorful rainbow is one of the more popular installations. She made it from painted rebar and crafted an identical piece that’s located in Baja. The field around the artwork was filled with fluttering butterflies. I later found out that there was a larger than average migration because of all the rain we got in Southern California. If butterflies and rainbows can’t make you smile, I really don’t know what will!

Desert X Rainbow - Lost and Abroad

We also made a quick stop at the digital simulation by John Gerrard. The giant screen located next to the Palm Springs Visitors Center portrays the world’s first major oil reserve in Texas sporting a flag of pollution. The image calls attention to the devastating effects on the earth of extracting oil. The beautiful San Jacinto Mountain Range is behind the artwork in the distance and deserves some viewing time of its own.

Desert X Western Flag - Lost and Abroad

I got to see two others before heading back to LA, but I definitely wish I had time to squeeze in a few more. Other popular installations include Eric N. Mack’s Halter, Ivan Argote’s A Point of View, and Dive-In by Superflex.

Helpful tips for visitors to Desert X:

  • Prioritize which installations you want to see and visit them on weekdays or as early in the day as possible to beat the crowds.
  • Download the Desert X Google Map or app to easily find the artwork.
  • Read up ahead of time. To get the most out of the exhibition, do some research into the artist and what they are trying to portray to have some context.
  • Take some time to also enjoy the cities’ permanent public art and numerous galleries.
  • Make a trip out of it. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to see all of the exhibition in one go. The pieces are just too far away from each other.
  • Unfortunately, a few of the installations were vandalized in the past. The artists worked hard on these, don’t be an a-hole.

Did you head out to the desert this year for Desert X? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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