Desert X Brings An Art Choose-Your-Own-Adventure To The Coachella Valley

"Lover's Rainbow" by artist Pia Camil at Villa Del Valle, Valle de Guadalupe in Baja
California, Mexico. (Courtesy Charco and Desert X)

The second Desert X is here. It's a Desert Exhibition, bigger than the last, using more land to explore today's big issues — like climate change. It does that with 19 art installations, scattered throughout a 55-mile area in the Coachella Valley, in a contemporary art show that opened over the weekend.

The sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the deep blue sky, so the rainbow that appeared just outside of Palm Springs over the weekend wasn't in the sky, but part of one of the installations. It's the work of Mexico city-based artist Pia Camil

"It's kind of going to be Choose Your Own Adventure," Desert X co-curator Amanda Hunt said. "What people love about this experience is exactly that — it's an adventure."

Hunt also works at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, but it has its limitations when it comes to giving people access to art.

"Museums are historically not the most welcoming spaces, and that's something that I'm working to undo every day, I hope," she said.

The second Desert X is part of that mission. The first took place in 2017, drawing 200,000 to exhibits like the Mirage House of Mirrors. Many of the Desert X installations can only be located with GPS coordinates, so Google Maps is crucial.

Desert X installation view of Cara Romero's "Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert," 2019. (Lance Gerber/Courtesy of Desert X)

As Hunt said, it's an adventure, even to find things along major roadways — like the series of billboards from Native American photographer Cara Romero.

Desert X installation view of Cara Romero's "Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert," 2019. (Lance Gerber/Courtesy of Desert X)

Located along Gene Autry Trail, one of the billboards shows young boys in feathered headdresses and loincloths standing next to a border that reads "No Wall." There are five in total, all of which highlight an issue, or current event — like the proposed border wall — happening in Indian Country.

John Gerrard's "Western Flag," 2019, at Desert X. (Lance Gerber, courtesy Desert X)

John Gerrard's Western Flag was easier to find, but only because it's at the Palm Springs Visitor Center. It's a giant video installation of a flag made up of black smoke that seems to be blowing in the wind. The land around it looks barren, abandoned.

"Climate change has the potential to really challenge what you could think of as the nation-state — you know, the nation-state is exemplified by flag, the central identity of any country is a flag, and we all agree on the flag for the most part — left, right, whatever you may be," Gerrard explained to a small crowd the day Desert X opened.

Climate change is a big topic at this year's Desert X, where each artist was given a piece of land and then told to create an art installation that integrated the landscape in some way.

"What's exciting about a site-specific show, which is what this is, is that really the place is the curator," Desert X Artistic Director Neville Wakefield said. "The place creates and curates the objects, and I think the experiences."

Augmented reality piece "Revolutions," by artist Nancy Baker Cahill. (Lance Gerber, courtesy of Desert X)

The Coachella Valley is a natural venue for artists and, by extension, an event like Desert X, Wakefield said.

"I think there's a cultural history that goes with the desert, that goes back to biblical times, as a place to find yourself, to find spirituality, to discover things," Wakefield said. "And I think that's been huge for writers, for artists, for filmmakers, for everyone."

Desert X is free and open to the public and runs through April 21.