The site specific art exhibition Desert X (February 25 – April 30, 2017) overlapped with the two weekends of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival (April 14-16 and 21-23). Celebrating established and emerging artists, this 24-year old multi-genre music festival has grown to become one of the most popular in the world, with attendance topping 200,000. This year’s headliners included Radiohead and Lady Gaga, but after the reviews came in, 29-year old hip-hop musician Kendrick Lamar was crowned King of Coachella. Here’s a video of Kendrick Lamar at this year’s event performing “Love” (featuring Zacari) from his new album Damn.
Spring 2017 was the inaugural presentation of Desert X in the Coachella Valley and its debut holds tremendous promise for the future. This ambitious project featured site-specific artwork in 15 locations throughout the desert – imagine a treasure hunt on steroids. Sometimes the hunt paid off in spades as in the case of Doug Aitken’s mirrored house Mirage in Palm Springs, Sherin Guirguis’ One I Call in Whitewater Preserve, and Lita Albuquerque’s quietly effective hEARTH at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage. But at other times the search was frustrating, annoying and fruitless – two of the exhibits were one-time “happenings,” one was closed due to vandalism, and another was closed “due to wind conditions.” Everything about Desert X bespoke spontaneity, yet it required viewers to read the fine print before heading out – something that sorely needs to be addressed in Desert X 2018. To locate the pieces, Desert X attendees input and followed co-ordinates on their cell phones – a great idea until service was dropped in remote locations.
Often the art was complemented by an overwhelmingly narcissistic audience, literally holding a mirror up to society’s raging selfie-obsession. At other times, seeing idiots “interact” with the art by aggressively pulling, punching and kicking it as their friends laughed and took pictures was infuriating. Without museum walls and guards to protect the works some visitors saw the installations as fair game for destruction. Was this part of the exploration of what happens when shiny objects are placed in an open, brutal desert landscape? Desert X was meant to be temporary – the art was at the mercy of the elements, including its audience – and with the exception of Mirage (slated to be in place through the end of October 2017) came to a close on April 30th. An intriguing beginning not without its problems, we’re rooting for a new and improved Desert X redux next spring.