Making art for a desert landscape

The inaugural Desert X art exhibition brings the work of 17 artists to the heat of the Coachella Valley in the US. Here, we present four of our favourite large-scale pieces from the show

Until April 30, visitors can experience a trail of 17 site-specific artworks in various locations throughout the desert valley. The idea is that the landscape itself acts as the canvas for a curated exhibition featuring projects that will, say the organisers, “amplify and articulate both local and global issues”.

Under the artistic directorship of curator and critic Neville Wakefield, Desert X has commissioned some really interesting work. We’ve picked out four of our favourite projects – by Jennifer Bolande, Doug Aitkin, Philip K Smith III, and Claudia Comte – which give an idea of the sheer scale of the undertaking and the way the desert surroundings are integral to these new and exciting commissions.

Jennifer Bolande, Visible Distance, 2017. Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist and Desert X

Jennifer Bolande, Visible Distance / Second Sight
“In a cinematic experience animated by driving along Gene Autry Trail, viewers will encounter a series of billboards featuring photographs of the very mountains towards which they are heading. Each photograph is unique to its position along this route, and at a certain point as one approaches each billboard, perfect alignment with the horizon will occur thus reconnecting the space that the rectangle of the billboard has interrupted. In the language of billboard advertising, this kind of reading is referred to as a Burma-Shave after the shaving cream company of the same name who used sequential placement to create messaging that could be read only from a moving vehicle. Within the desert empire of roadside signs, Bolande chooses to advertise the very thing so often overlooked. Looking up at the billboards our attention is drawn back to the landscape itself, pictured here as a stuttering kineasthetic of real and artificial horizons.”

Doug Aitken, MIRAGE. 2017. Photography by Lance Gerber. Courtesy the artist and Desert X

Doug Aitkin, MIRAGE
“In the tradition of land art as a reflection of the dreams and aspirations projected onto the American West, Mirage presents a continually changing encounter in which subject and object, inside and outside are in constant flux. The ranch-style structure suggests a latter-day architectural version of manifest destiny, a primary structure rendered by the artist without function service or texture. With every available surface clad in mirror, it both absorbs and reflects the landscape around in such ways that the exterior will seemingly disappear just as the interior draws the viewer into a never-ending kaleidoscope of light and reflection. As Mirage pulls the landscape in and reflects it back out, this classic one-story suburban house becomes a framing device, a perceptual echo-chamber endlessly bouncing between the dream of nature as pure uninhabited state and the pursuit of its conquest.”

Phillip K.Smith III, The Circle of Land and Sky, 2017. Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist, Royale Projects and Desert X

Philip K Smith III, The Circle of Land and Sky
“The Circle of Land and Sky defines a reflective space within the desert, composed entirely of the environment’s two most prominent physical characteristics — land and sky. Formed by 300 geometric reflectors angled at 10 degrees, the artwork directly engages with the Sonoran surrounding and the endless heavens. As the light shifts and the viewer moves through the installation, land and sky are separated, merged, and displaced, subverting one’s assumed relationship with the desert horizon. At times, the sky is pulled down to the land or the land lifted up to the sky, while the colours of the west may merge with the colours of the east. It is a constantly changing installation that can never be seen the same way twice.”

Claudia Comte, Curves and Zigzags, 2017. Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist and Desert X

Claudia Comte, Curves and Zig Zags
“Curves and Zigzags is the third work from an ongoing series of free-standing walls that straddle painting and sculpture. Comte’s practice embraces all media with equal ferocity and she uses this series to examine what happens when two-dimensional painting is superimposed on three-dimensional structure. Unlike graffiti artists her walls are built specifically for the work they carry. In Curves and Zigzags, the painting starts with a stringent geometric composition that gradually morphs into a more organic wave like pattern reminiscent of Bridget Riley optical paintings or the gardens of Burle Marx. Playing on the constant exchange of dualities – nature and culture, order and chaos, geometric and organic form – Comte’s wall suggests a walk through the shifting sands of abstraction and on to a place where beauty and contemplation sit side by side.”

Claudia Comte, Curves and Zigzags, 2017. Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist and Desert X

The other artists featured in the first Desert X include Lita Albuquerque, Will Boone, Jeffrey Gibson, Sherin Guirguis, Norma Jeane, Glenn Kaino, Gabriel Kuri, Armando Lerma, Cinthia Marcelle, Richard Prince, Rob Pruitt, Julião Sarmento, Phillip K. Smith III and Tavares Strachan. Desert X installations are available free and require no ticket. Installations are open daily from dawn to sunset, however, please be aware that some installations have unique open hours. More details at desertx.org

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