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The Coachella Valley is home to many arts festivals—but the new Desert X is unlike any arts event ever done here before.

Desert X, short for the Desert Exhibition of Art, is a site-specific contemporary art exhibition, spread out throughout the Coachella Valley, from Feb. 25 through April 30. Artists contributing installations include Date Farmers’ owner Armando Lerma, Doug Aitken, Norma Jeane and many others.

The president of the Desert X board of directors is Susan Davis, the editorial director at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands.

“It’s a valley-wide exhibition. A curator put together a list of artists who we invited to the desert to choose sites that specifically resonated in them,” Davis said. “They created works specific to those sites. There will be about 15 installations. One of them is up in Whitewater, and the farthest (east) are in Indio and Coachella. We will also have pieces in Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage as well. The pieces will be available to view for free for anyone who wants to visit or happens upon them.”

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs will serve as the Desert X headquarters.

“People will be able to get maps and get information, and we’ll be offering bus tours on Saturdays and Sundays,” Davis said.

Davis touted the wide reach of Desert X’s participants.

“These are all artists with international reputations who are in major museums throughout the world,” she said. “It’s very exciting. We’re working with a number of local cultural organizations who have become our program partners. We have the Palm Springs Art Museum. Sunnylands is going to host one of the pieces. (Local student film festival) Digicom has a number of students in the local schools who are using these pieces to create documentary films, and we’re working with Modernism Week. The parallel projects are projects that have been selected through a series of criteria and include things up in the High Desert as well as an exhibition at the Marks Center for the Arts at College of the Desert.”

Davis offered hints about what people can expect at the installations.

“In the case of the project that’s out in Palm Desert in Adams Park, Claudia Comte chose that location and created a piece that echoes the landscape,” Davis said. “The shape of the wall is from her standpoint and echoes the mountains and the landscape.

“Another artist, Jeffrey Gibson, whose piece is going to be in the sculpture garden at the (Palm Springs) Art Museum, was inspired by the windmills. He went through a process where he wanted his piece on the wind farms, but as it evolved, he realized that it would better speak to being in Palm Springs, because he’s a Native American and was very interested in the confluence in Palm Springs of Native Americans, the LGBT community and the alternative energy history. All of the artists have created pieces for those places specific to the ideas that resonated in them and influenced them.”

Davis said she had the idea for Desert X after attending biennials and big festivals in other cities.

“The purpose is to show off a city or an area as a cultural destination, and to highlight contemporary art simultaneously,” she said. “… After Hurricane Katrina, they had an exhibition every three years to bring people back to New Orleans to show that the city was growing back after the flood, and that it was a vibrant community. It was bringing people back, which was good for the economy and showcased contemporary art.

“I’ve been living in the valley for about seven years, and my background and my passion is contemporary art. … Contemporary art exhibitions could fill a vacuum here in the valley. (Visitors) come for a number of things, but not contemporary art. They certainly don’t come for art at all. I thought this would also shine a spotlight on the Palm Springs Art Museum and also shine a light on the cultural richness here in the Coachella Valley.”

Davis said she’s excited about the potential that Desert X has to show off the Coachella Valley to visitors and locals alike, using Comte’s work at Palm Desert’s Adams Park as an example.

“It’s a way for all of us who live here to see the desert through the lens of contemporary art,” she said. “From my standpoint, the exhibition has already been successful, because people have already interacted with Claudia Comte’s work and started asking questions: ‘Is it political?’ ‘Is it a mirage?’ ‘What’s it doing here?’ ‘Is it staying here?’ ‘This should be permanent.’ It starts a conversation, and that’s one thing.

“The second thing is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who don’t have a clue where Adams Park is. It shines a light on a beautiful part of Palm Desert for its residents and the people in the Coachella Valley.”

Desert X takes place from Saturday, Feb. 25, through Sunday, April 30, with installations across the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.desertx.org. Below: Phillip K. Smith III's "The Circle of Land and Sky," Palm Desert; mirror polished stainless steel; 165 feet diameter by 10 feet high (rendering).

Published in Visual Arts

Both the La Quinta Arts Foundation and its La Quinta Arts Festival are celebrating 35 years in 2017. While the festival—taking place Thursday, March 2, through Sunday, March 5, at the La Quinta Civic Center Campus—is very well-known, the mission behind the festival is not so well-known.

Part of the mission of the La Quinta Arts Foundation has always been supporting local visual artists looking to continue their educations—and the LQAF has done so in a big, big way.

“The visual arts scholarship program began in 1984, a few years after the festival began, and to date, the scholarship program has awarded $1.23 million to 376 individual students pursuing higher education in the arts,” said LQAF President and CEO Christi Salamone. “We have students in school as film administrators and educators, (as well as in) studio art, craft, architecture, curatorial practice, fashion design, photojournalism and every visual-art-related field.”

Recent scholarship recipients include Sofia Enriquez, Kaho Akiya, Jake Hill and Katrina Hahn, just to name a few. (Interested students should visit the LQAF website for more information; the scholarship deadline for this year is Friday, March 24.)

Salamone said at this critical time, when arts-based education is being cut from schools, the arts are as important as ever.

“We all know that statistics show exposure to the arts and instruction in the arts promotes critical thinking, and I think when you look at any kind of innovation and the ability to think creatively, it really will be the future of how we problem-solve, and how we express ourselves,” Salamone said. “The arts are critical and need to remain in schools.”

The list of artists who have benefitted from the scholarship program is rather impressive, including Armando Lerma, artist and owner of the Date Farmers studio in Coachella; and multifaceted visual artist Cristopher Cichocki.

“There have been so many successful students in the valley who have benefited from our visual arts scholarship—people such as Phillip K. Smith III. One of our first scholarship recipients was Bert Bitanga; he received the scholarship from 1988 to 1991, and he is now the head of the architecture and environmental design program at College of the Desert.”

Some of these aforementioned artists, including Lerma and Smith, are participating in the site-specific Desert Exhibition of Art, aka Desert X; see the accompanying story.

Salamone said the La Quinta Arts Foundation is honoring its scholarship recipients during this year’s festival as part of its 35th anniversary celebration.

“We are spotlighting a lot of the former scholarship students throughout the festival and highlighting many of their accomplishments,” she said. “They’re doing great things within our community and around the world. We’re paying homage to them.

“What people don’t realize is that by attending the festival, purchasing art, buying tickets and buying food and drink, they’re ensuring future generations of creative endeavors that will enrich our lives.”

Salamone talked about some of the more interesting artists taking part in this year’s festival.

“We have Chris Sanchez, a local artist who is going to be doing an installation,” Salamone said. “We have Marnie Navarro; she’s going to be in the Splash Lounge doing some sound and performance installations. … Brittany North has led a group of seniors from the Coachella Senior Center, and they’ve created this yarn-bomb installation.”

All of the aforementioned artists are LQAF scholars, by the way.

Salamone said she’s proud the La Quinta Arts Festival has such a remarkable reputation throughout the country.

“There are 4,500 major arts festivals throughout the nation,” she said. “The La Quinta Arts Festival is consistently ranked among the Top 5 in the nation by all ranking sources. When you consider that we’re always the top-ranked show west of the Rockies—and the only show in California ranked in the Top 10 consistently—and ranked No. 1 in 2014 and 2015, and that the art sales have totaled $47 million throughout the tenure of the festival, that’s pretty remarkable.”

Not so coincidentally, the Coachella Valley art scene has continued to grow since the LQAF has been around.

“I think there’s always been a thriving art community in the valley,” Salamone said. “Our founders knew that the desert’s natural beauty could provide inspiration for artists and artistic pursuits. They thought it would be a haven for artists to come and create—and that’s why they started the foundation.”

The La Quinta Arts Festival takes place Thursday, March 2, through Sunday, March 5, at the La Quinta Civic Center Campus, 78495 Calle Tampico, in La Quinta. Tickets are $17 for a one-day pass, or $22 for a multi-day pass. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.lqaf.com.

Published in Visual Arts

Every year at Coachella, the art installations cause a variety of reactions.

“Wow.”

“Interesting.”

“WTF?”

“Tower of Twelve Stories” by Jimenez Lai of Taiwan/Canada really lights up the Coachella night sky this year. It sort of resembles a piece of modern furniture, with compartments put together to form one structure. It may be a statement as to how we’ll be living in tiny spaces in very strange buildings in the future.

One installation that is on the “WTF” part of the scale is “The Armpit.” It led to the first time I’ve ever been able to say, “Let’s get in line to see ‘The Armpit!’” It’s meant to be interactive. The minute you walk up the ramp and inside the armpit (that just sounds funny, doesn’t it) … it, thankfully, is not very armpit-like.

The first room of the work, designed by Katrina Neiburga and Andris Eglitis of Latvia, features old television screens showing random bits of film; one screen displayed a random fact about Albert Einstein. One part on the second floor has a bunch of broken televisions. The balcony offers a great view off the grounds—with a ride that offers a 360-degree view of the Coachella grounds.

The “Katrina Chairs” by Alexandre Arrechea of Cuba has become a conversation piece online. I’m not sure what to think; it looks like four giant chairs with little apartments on top.

“Portals,” by Phillip K. Smith III of Palm Desert, is inspired by modernism, and to me, it feels a little bit like Eero Saarinen architecture. The exterior and interior are vented with mirrors angled in a way that you can see through them—but the closer you get, the harder it is to see through. On the inside are chambers with resemble speaker heads on the walls, with a tree growing out of the middle of the structure.

“Sneaking Into the Show” by the Date Farmers has an eerie feel. Two figures are very tall and look like they should have some advertising on them, placed outside of some tourist trap.

I saw plenty of photos last week of “Besame Mucho,” a large sign that says just that—made entirely of flowers. The translation is “Kiss Me a Lot.” I suppose that’s fitting considering how many love stories and romantic connections there have been at Coachella, including Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp-Muhl from Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad meeting his wife, Lauren Parsekian.

One thing that’s missing this year is a large exhibit that moves through the audience throughout the grounds. There was the giant snail in 2013, the astronaut in 2014, and the caterpillar that became a butterfly in 2015. What’s up, Coachella?

See more images from Friday at Coachella below. Photos by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Visual Arts

For four days, the Palm Springs Convention Center’s main exhibition hall will essentially become a $100 million pop-up gallery.

The third annual Palm Springs Fine Art Fair (PSFAF) will showcase the full gamut of modern and contemporary art from Thursday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 16.

In just three years, the Palm Springs Fine Arts Fair has become a must-do event for art-lovers. From 2012 to 2013, attendance increased from 9,500 to 12,000. This year, Rick Friedman, the show’s organizer, projects attendance will exceed 14,000.

Every available inch of the Convention Center’s Exhibition Hall is reserved for art, presented by some 60 participating galleries. Only a quarter of the exhibitors are from Southern California; in fact, participants come from all over the United States and the world: This year, the Palm Springs Convention Center will become the temporary home to galleries from Great Britain, London, Brussels, France, South Korea, Canada, and Argentina.

The Fine Arts Fair celebrates artists both well-recognized and emerging. Artists in the spotlight this year include Karel Appel, Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Henry Jackson, Frank Stella, Raymond Jonson, Addison Rowe, Pablo Picasso, Kenneth Noland, Cecily Brown, Eric Orr, Claes Oldenburg, Melissa Chandon, Chul Hyun Ahn, David Middlebrook, Devorah Sperber and Mel Ramos.

One of the fair’s central pieces, literally and figuratively, will be Steve Maloney’s "Ride-em-Cowboy." This sculpture was created using a decommissioned Bell JetRanger helicopter and a longhorn steer skull. Maloney adorned both the inside and the outside with thousands of colored gemstones; it also includes a Swarovski crystal chandelier and old cowhide chairs. Finally, an iPad serves as a virtual flight simulator. (Of course it does!) Palm Desert’s Heather James Fine Art gets credit for bringing Maloney’s work to the fair.

Beyond allowing attendees to experience great art, the Fine Art Fair sponsors educational programs for everyone one from non-collectors and novices to the most seasoned collectors.

Some highlights on the schedule (which, of course, is subject to change; visit palmspringsfineartfair.com for an up-to-date schedule):

• Non-collectors and collectors alike can meet the four artists showcased in the fair’s public exhibition, DRY HEAT—4 Artists in the California Desert. On Saturday, Feb. 15, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., the exhibit’s curator, Steve Biller, will moderate a panel featuring the four artists: Kim Stringfellow, Phillip K. Smith III, Cristopher Cichocki and Scott B. Davis. These artists have been creating site-specific works focusing on the desert’s natural, social and cultural landscape.

• Beginning collectors can gain insights from the panel discussion Art of Collecting 101, slated from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15; meanwhile, other programs are geared toward particular interests of serious collectors. From 1 to 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, a panel discussion, The Art of Giving, will discuss philanthropic aspects of giving fine art to a charitable organization or museum. And on Sunday, Feb. 16, from 1 to 2 p.m., Art as a Legacy will be a panel discussion geared toward those who recognize that their collection needs to be a meaningful and distinct part of their estate.

• Palm Springs resident and philanthropist Harold Matzner will be honored as 2014 Arts Patron of the Year. Matzner’s commitment to the arts here in the desert is unparalleled; he is chairman of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, chairman of the McCallum Theatre, and vice president on the board of trustees at Palm Springs Art Museum. Matzner will receive his award at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 13, at a VIP event.

• At 5 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 14, Los Angeles-based photographer Greg Gorman will receive the 2014 Photographer of the Year award. From celebrity portraits and advertising campaigns to magazine layouts and fine art work, Gorman has developed and showcased his own unique style.

“I try to capture the essence of each individual,” Gorman says about his photography.

When looking at Gorman’s imagery, it becomes clear that his most successful photographs leave something to the imagination.

Gorman will be interviewed by Desert Outlook editor Will Dean, following an introduction by actor Udo Kier.

• Acclaimed artist Jennifer Bartlett will receive the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award at 11:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 14. Throughout her 50-year career, this Long Beach artist, now 73, has remained a prominent and controversial force in the creative world. She keeps evolving as an artist: Her work consistently contains both paradoxes and contradictions. Irrespective of medium, size and subject, she creates imagery that requires viewers to take a second look.

A mini-retrospective of Bartlett’s work, Jennifer Bartlett: 50 Years on the Grid, curated by exhibitor Imago Galleries (of Palm Desert), will be shown near the entrance to the fair.

The Palm Springs Fine Arts Fair takes place Thursday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Tickets range from $25 for a day pass to $250 for an all-access black card. For passes or more information, call 631-283-5505, or visit palmspringsfineartfair.com.

Based in Cathedral City, Victor Barocas is a photographer, author and educator/business coach. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Below: Greg Gorman's "Andy Warhol."

Published in Visual Arts