“Specter” by Sterling Ruby, against the sky. From Desert X 2019, outside Palm Springs, California.
Every other year the good folks at Desert X put together an exhibition that spans the Coachella Valley and then some, from the Salton Sea to Whitewater Canyon. I went to the first two — in 2017 and 2019 — with my mom, a snowbird, and my younger sister, an Angeleno.
Desert X features works that are in conversation with the landscape, and if that sounds like an advertisement, it kind of is. They put up some really cool projects, including a house made out of mirrors, a series of billboards with giant pictures of the desert that line up just-so when you catch them from the right angle, and an AR installation over the iconic windmills near the San Gorgonio Pass.
One of the chief delights of Desert X is watching folks interact with the art. Most installations encourage it: there are objects to touch, staircases to climb, buildings to wander through. Instagrammers stage their shots, old folks on bus tours diligently read artists’ statements on their phones, kids run screaming around the base of giant reflective palm trees. For a few weeks, the desert is the biggest, best art museum in the world.