For its fourth edition, Desert X, a biennial-style exhibition that presents public art at various sites across the Coachella Valley in California, has named the 11 artists it has commissioned to create new installations. The exhibition’s 2023 iteration is scheduled to run March 4 to May 7, and it is organized by artistic director Neville Wakefield and co-curator Diana Campbell.
Among the major artists who will show work in Desert X are Torkwase Dyson, Tschabalala Self, Mario García Torres, and Héctor Zamora. Three of the participating artists are based in Southern California: Lauren Bon, Matt Johnson, and Gerald Clarke (Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians).
García Torres’s project, Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium), will take the form of a herd of mechanical bulls, while Self will present an equestrian statue, titled Pioneer, that will honor Native women and African American women. Dyson will show a new work in her ongoing sculptural installation series, “Liquid a Place,” and Clarke’s Immersion will take “the form of a traditional Cahuilla coiled basket or ‘chi-pat-mal’ scaled to become a giant game board,” according to a release.
“Desert X 2023 can be seen as a collection of artistic interventions that make visible how our energy has a transference far beyond what we see just in front of us in our own localities,” Campbell said in a statement. “From deserts to floodplains, finding, building and developing tools and tactics to shelter our minds and bodies from the harshness of the world outside are essential to survival. In a time of global crisis, many of the artists have created spaces of freedom and possibility, suggesting new ways to build healing cultures of care that embrace and protect (bio)diversity, opening up opportunities for joy and hope anchored in justice.”
In the years since its founding in 2017, Desert X has faced several major controversies. Some of have revolved around the artworks’ potential to disturb the natural environments and animals that live in the Coachella Valley, as was the case with a light-projection by Jenny Holzer for the 2019 edition and a smoke sculpture by Judy Chicago for the 2021 edition.
Additionally, in 2019, Desert X announced that it would begin staging iterations of the biennial exhibition in the desert town of AlUla, Saudi Arabia. Because of Saudi Arabia’s history of alleged human rights abuse, that led to several board members, including artist Ed Ruscha, to resign, and also caused a major donor to end its funding to the exhibition and the city of Palm Springs to withdraw the $30,000 it had authorized to support the realization of a sculpture by Christopher Myers.
In a statement, Susan Davis, the biennial’s founder and president, said, “Since its founding, Desert X has provided a non-judgemental platform where artists and audiences generate cross-cultural dialogue and new understanding about our world. They are challenged by the desert, its beauty, harshness, and ever-changing environment. For 2023, visitors will encounter immersive works that respond to the global impact of climate change, economic challenges and the profound social transformations we are confronting.”
The full artist list follows below.
Rana Begum, b. 1977, Bangladesh, based in London
Lauren Bon, b. 1962, USA, based in Los Angeles
Gerald Clarke, b. 1967, USA, based in Anza, California
Paloma Contreras Lomas, b. 1991, Mexico, based in Mexico City
Torkwase Dyson, b. 1973, USA, based in Beacon, New York
Mario García Torres, b.1975, Mexico, based in Mexico City
Hylozoic/Desires (Himali Singh Soin, b. 1987, India, based in London and Delhi and David Soin Tappeser, b.1985, Germany, based in London and Delhi)
Matt Johnson, b. 1978, USA, based in Los Angeles
Tschabalala Self, b. 1990, USA, based in New York
Marina Tabassum, b. 1968, Bangladesh, based in Dhaka
Héctor Zamora, b. 1974, Mexico, based in Mexico City