"The desert is God without man. It’s a place of scarcity, stark contrast, crude survival, mystery, and transformation. Paradoxically, its inhospitality toward life has, in part, made it receptive to new forms." — Desert X introductory video.

Desert X is a collective of artists and curators that have come together for a second yearly exhibition of grand statements through larger-than-life art installations across the California desert. The first exhibition brought in more than 200,000 visitors from across the globe. These people were interested in firsthand engagement with the work of these intrepid artists. Environmental consciousness is a major theme across the works of many affiliated artists, so exhibits are displayed for a limited window of time to reduce impact on the surrounding ecosphere.


From Biblical allegory to modern music and eccentric artists, the desert has a long legacy of refuge for creative expression. The organizers of Desert X allude to Balzac and Edward Dimaria, their work, and fascinations with the desert landscape. Indeed, the Salton Sea already houses the work of Leonard Knight at Salvation Mountain, where an entire hill is adorned with adobe and Biblical murals. Desert X carries on in the tradition of the works of these visionaries.

The desert current

Contemporary art pieces are temporarily installed across the Palm Desert area. The Desert X homepage describes the venue of the desert as a climate in which utopian and dystopian visions coexist alongside one another, from the clear night skies of the Coachella Valley to the devastation of “agua negra” in the desolate shores of the Salton Sea. Many of the pieces make statements about climate change and contemporary shifts in global immigration, though each artist brings his/her own work to a different light in the desert sun with pieces ranging from interpretive dance to structural installations towering over the viewer.

“But before anything else, it’s about the area itself and the people and communities who live here.”

The mirage

With abundant space to showcase their work, artists construct tremendous pieces like “Lover’s Rainbow,” a 40-foot tall installation of dual arches of painted rebar, billboards featuring Native American photography, and a 20-foot tall “Ghost Palm” of steel and glass. The creators of these works have come to show their pieces from Texas to Los Angeles to Paris. The desert landscape accommodates an avenue for expression impossible within the confines of a traditional museum and, as such, attracts ambitious talent.


Credit: Nazar Doroshkevych / Shutterstock.com

Much of the mindset behind Desert X is one of exploration and discovery. The only way to find many of the pieces is through GPS, so Google Maps is crucial to finding one’s way around. Many of the pieces are open only during specific times of the day, so which exhibits visitors choose to view relies solely on their own discretion. In a way, the exhibit presents itself in the vein of a “choose-your-own adventure.”


Without captions and museum labels, viewers are left to engage with pieces from their individual vantage points. Several of the organizers view the exhibition as an effort to make art accessible and approachable in a different venue. Journeying through the desert with your companions or alone, the impetus of the exhibit is to create an intimate connection with the artists and their work without a clear road map or guide. One’s own sense of adventure and curiosity leads the way.