Desert X 2017 | Coachella Valley, California

California | Coachella Valley | Indio | Museum | United States

​This past spring, Coachella Valley, Palm Springs and its neighboring desert cities weren’t only the backdrop for music festivals, Coachella and Stagecoach, but were also the canvas for an art exhibition, Desert X.


Desert X was on display, from February 25 – April 30 2017 and had various installations from established and emerging artist, whose art pieces “amplified, and articulated global and local issues that may range from climate change to starry skies, from tribal culture and immigration to tourism, gaming, and golf.”  The exhibition displayed 15 different installations, some indoor and some outdoor. The exhibits were all free for viewing.


I first discovered Desert X while I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. A friend of mine had posted a picture of Mirage, a mirrored house.  I clicked on the location tag and was brought to the Desert X Instagram profile.  I knew I had to see it! Unfortunately, my adventure buddy, John, wasn’t free until the last weekend of April.   We marked our calendars for April 29th.


I really wish I could’ve gone earlier for those people who are reading this post and would’ve liked to go see it.  It is what it is and I hope you enjoy looking through this photo diary.

Other than go to Coachella, I’ve never visited the Palm Springs Desert area so it was a treat to visit the oasis.  The drive from San Diego to Palm Springs is about a 2-2.5 hour, filled with small roads and sharp twist and turns. I hated it.  I get nervous on those two lane streets and seeing oncoming traffic scares me.


Related: Re: Coachella 2018


We arrived Palm Springs around noon and walked around their downtown area.  I highly recommend a a french cafe called, L’atelier Cafe. It is owned by an adorable french couple, who took the creativity of french cuisine and brought it to the California desert.  


The Desert X hub is at the famous ACE hotel in Palm Springs.  Here we were able to get a free pamphlet that included information of each of the artist and a simplified map of the art pieces.  The Desert X staff was friendly, helpful and spoke with enthusiasm. There are a total of 15 installations, but 3 were unavailable during out visit.


Ace Hotel sign in Palm Springs, California


We planned our route, making our way from west to east on the map, picking the installation we wanted to view.  We ended up visiting 7 out of the 15.





Alive! | Jeffery Gibson


The first stop on our trip was Alive! by Jeff Gibson.  This installation was located at the Palm Springs Art Museum in  their outside sculpture garden. Technically, we didn’t have to enter the museum to see the turbine however it was free to go inside to view the piece up close. So, might as well!  

Initially, I thought that the whole sculpture garden was part of Desert X.  I didn’t mind because they were still pretty cool pieces, such as this medal, spinny thing.  I honestly don’t really know what it was.

























Alive! is a painted wind turbine blade.  I don’t think I really grasped the enormity of the object until I saw a field of wind turbines during our visit to Mirage (the next installation we saw).  The shape of the blade is reminiscent of a wing, fin or a bone found in a whale.  I get native vibes because of the patterns and way the words are painted. Looking back, indigenous tribes used to settle in the desert plains and I think that’s the message the artist was trying to convey.




Alive! by Jeffery Gibson art exhibit part of Desert X




Donation Box | Gabrielle Kuri


Donation Box was located in an empty store.  Basically, it took desert sand and placed it inside a commercial building, with coins, cigarette buds and other waste sprinkled on it.  It speaks how we take nature and commercialize it and ultimately ruin it.


Las Vegas is a prime example of the message Kuri was conveying.  The city took a desert land built a bunch of casino and is littered with people smoking, gambling and trashing it.  Have you seen the Las Vegas strip at night?! This is a small scale representation on our impact on the desert.






Mirage | Doug Aitken


The Instagram worthy installation, Mirage.  



Mirage is a ranch-style house covered in mirrors, both inside and out.  From the outside, the mirrors absorb and reflect the desert landscape, creating a mirage.  From the inside, the viewer steps into an endless kaleidoscope, reflecting light and images of the millions of people who are also checking out the exhibit.   A reflection between “the dream of nature as pure uninhabited state and the pursuit of its conquest.”


I REALLY enjoyed this exhibit.  I like the simplicity of the design and deeper meaning concept, plus I enjoy cool architecture.  Because the inside is covered in mirrors and the house has various windows, it feels a lot bigger when you are walking through it.  Every turn, every glance, you see something different, maybe it’s the blue sky, the warm desert tones or another visitor. The installation is perfectly named.  When walking around the perimeter of the house, the reflection of the desert truly gives the illusion of a mirage. Capture a perfect mirror image of the desert or get an illusion of the land onto the sky, there’s an endless amount of perspectives this piece can be viewed.





Visible Distance  / Second Sight | Jennifer Bolande


Driving down the freeway, I can’t help but glance at a billboard every now and then, especially the Chik-Fil-A one with the two cows.  Billboards are commercials for drivers.


Bolande’s installation was meant to be experienced while driving, though I do wish there was a place to stop really quick.  It’s amazing how she was able to get the correct perspective of the landscape and plaster it on a billboard. I was able to see the point where the billboard blends into the majestic mountain background just at the perfect moment as we zoomed on by.


Billboards and advertisements take away from nature and art.  Just think about websites you use, a lot of them flood you with colorful ads and popups (though my pop-up is for you to subscribe to my newsletter 😉 ).  They are distractions.  That’s why I chose my layout and put minimal ads if I do decide to put some.  However, I do understand that people need to make money and advertising is a why to get the word out  about a business or remind customers that a company exist.


In the Philippines they have ads the size of 6 story buildings.  It’s crazy how big these advertisements are, I feel like I’m looking at a ginormous magazine.    


Sometimes billboards are distractions and sometimes they are art.





Monument | Will Boone


I definitely got a tan waiting in line to see this installation, it took us about 30 minutes to get a peak into the underground bunker.  Guest climbed down the ladder in groups of around 6.






















An eerie silence hung in the air as I descended underground.  My boots clicked and clacked on the metal floor. Timidly, I opened the door into a dark room with only the little sunlight that made it’s way down from the surface, illuminating the figure at the end of the room. Three long seconds passed and a spotlight revealed the mysterious figure, our 35th president, John F. Kennedy.


The exhibit represents conspiracy, myth and fear.  When I think of JFK, I think of conspiracy. The idea that his assassination was all a lie and he could possibly be still alive.  Though he would be ancient if he were still in hiding. The fact that this installation is on the side of the road in the desert allows me to fiddle around with the idea of myths, such as UFOs and Area 51.  An idea that is always played with in movies every couple years. E.T. are you out there? Lastly, fear. Bunkers weren’t a thing until man discovered nuclear warfare. The mix of being inside a bunker and the dark vibes you get from climbing down has a feeling of fear and being scared.






















The Circle of Land and Sky | Phillip K. Smith


Another Instagram worthy installation.


300 geometric reflective beams angled at 10 degrees, create the Circle of Land and Sky.  The pull between earth and the heavens, the shift of west colors and east colors, the contrast between the reality and reflection. It is a piece that can never be seen twice in the same way.  


Similar to Mirage‘s use of mirrors, The Circle of Land and Sky is a reflective piece on contrasting ideas that merge, displace and coexist.  However, in this installation we take two concepts of nature. As I stepped inside the circle, the sky takes over the earth, but when I walk outside of it and stare at the beams, the sky is cut by land.  It is a dance between these two prominent forms of nature,







Curves and Zigzags |  Claudia Comte


Not just your ordinary wall, Curves and Zigzags took a two dimensional pattern and placed it on a three dimensional surface.  At one end of the wall, the zigzags were sharp but as I scanned to the opposite side, the once strict lines became organic waves.


I love wall art and street art and this took it to another level.  John and I got a bit dizzy when we stared at the wall. It demonstrated the contrast between geometric and organic form and the melding of the two.




























I ABSOLUTELY LOVED DESERT X!  I hope that if you are reading this, that you were able to check it out before they removed the exhibition.  I like the scavenger hunt aspect of driving to various parts of the greater Palm Springs area and stopping at each piece.  We were worried that parking would be terrible driving to each exhibit but it wasn’t too bad. The weather was hot but I expected far worse, it was about 85 degrees with a light breeze.


Many of the artists conveyed messages of contrast such as order and chaos, human impact and nature, simplicity and complexity and I believe they portrayed these messages through their art very well.  I got to experience the desert differently. I always thought it was just useless, empty space but Desert X gave me a new perspective. Forests get love because of its rich, lush, multifaceted beauty compared to it’s sibling, the desert which is typically seen as very simple and boring,  I’ve realized the beauty of the desert, the idea of seeing miles and miles of it in one glance is amazing when you think about it and the fresh cut of land, sky and possibly a little mountain, it doesn’t have distraction.


I do hope that the Desert X organization decides to host this event in the future.

*Desert X will be back February 9 – April 21, 2019*


Thank you Desert X!



Desert Art | Tumbleweeds | Reflection

Experienced: April 29, 2017

Updated: May 16, 2018

Tags: Desert X | Pop-up Museum

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Justine is the founder of The Iridescent Wings, a blog all about chasing an adventure near and far. She is a Southern Californian and gives local tips on LA, OC and SD, from her favorites to what's trending. You can also catch her on a flight to other parts of the United States, Europe, Asia and beyond.
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