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Ed Ruscha is Preparing Desert X - A Biennial-like Exhibition in the Palm Springs

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January 4, 2016
Pavle Ivanovic hides behind the pen name of Bob Lansroth as he tries to explore the boundless diversity of artists and the various ways in which they strive to escape the quotidian life. It is through the creative force within us that we must attempt to connect with one another and share our ideas with the world.

The California desert has had an obvious impact on Ed Ruscha’s work, ever since 1967, when the first depictions of it appeared in his photographic book Royal Road Test. Now, alongside of other partners, Ruscha is attempting to establish a biennial-like exhibition in the Palm Springs area that would coincide with the Coachella music festival and Modernism Week in 2017. The event, scheduled to take place in Palm Springs from February to April, will gather a variety of artists in order to create site-specific works that would reflect upon the history and geography of the area, a concept reminiscent of the one used for Wakefield’s 2014 Elevation 1049 project in Gstaad, Switzerland. Such an extreme environment will surely bring out the most unique dialogue between creation and destruction, since those two concepts are constantly battling each other in the desert, according to the curator Neville Wakefield.

Ed Ruscha - Bow-Tie Screwhead (Bow-Tie Landscapes), 2003
Ed Ruscha – Bow-Tie Screwhead (Bow-Tie Landscapes), 2003

The Mystifying Allure of the California Desert

Named Desert X, this newly designed event is organized by a nonprofit group consisted of the writer-curator Neville Wakefield as the artistic director, art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, filmmaker Mary Sweeney, artist Ed Ruscha, and the former Los Angeles gallerist Elizabeta Betinski as executive director among other members of the board. The name itself stands for Desert Exhibition of Art, and as Wakefield noted after spending more time in the California desert, the unique environment provides a source of fascination and inspiration to the artists. And it has, indeed, been a mystifying place for many moviemakers, musicians, artists and writers alike who get lost in the austere landscapes of the desert. The location’s history, geology, or even mythology are to invoke site-specific works and have the artists respond to its atmosphere during the event. The festival will offer non-traditional as well as institutional venues for the selected artists to engage with, including spaces at Palm Springs Art Museum and Sunnylands Center & Gardens. Among many other famous artists, Ed Ruscha actually bought a home in Joshua Tree (National park in the southeastern California) in recent years. Perhaps drawn by its openness, both in the regards of attitude and space, the desert is a mesmerizing pool of inspiration for many creators.

Richard Long - Circle of Japanese Fishing Floats
Richard Long – Circle of Japanese Fishing Floats

Desert X Alongside of Coachella and Modernism Week

Even though it is still too early to predict how many, or which artists might be involved, or even which sites in the desert would be used, the curator announced it is established for now that it’s a recurring event. Wakefield also stated that Desert X might not keep to a biennial schedule. With many influential and prominent names as the members of the board, financing has so far come straight from them and the Coachella music festival. Even though the event will overlap with Modernism Week and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, you can surely predict Desert X will not falter in gathering of masses and crowds for its inaugural launch. As Thom Merrick, one of the artists who moved from the busy New York into the desert, once stated, there aren’t any rules in the desert, only survival. This bared down concept of existence truly provides a completely opposite surrounding for most artists, and it will be interesting to see what these extreme conditions will bring out creatively.

Featured images: Ed Ruscha in the Mojave desert, California, 1962, photo by Patty Callahan; Ed Ruscha – Untitled photograph from the book Colored People, published 1972. All images used for illustrative purposes only.