Ed Ruscha Starts Coachella Art Biennial in the Desert

Art will no longer take a back seat to music at Coachella.

Since its inception in 1999, music festival Coachella has morphed into a full-blown cultural phenomenon that regularly attracts major celebrities, corporate sponsors, and a whole lot of eye-rolling from those who feel the event has ceased to be about the music. Comparisons to the spectacle that is Art Basel in Miami Beach abound. And starting in April 2017, the festival will have its very own art world counterpart: Desert X.

Artist Ed Ruscha—for whom the California desert has been a long-standing source of inspiration—is on the board of a nonprofit group working to start the biennial art exhibition, according to the New York Times. Other members of the show, which will run during Coachella, and whose name aptly stands for Desert Exhibition of Art, include collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, Coachella art director Paul Clemente, and former Palm Springs Art Museum director Steve Nash. Neville Wakefield and Elizabeta Betinski will serve as the exhibition’s artistic director and executive director, respectively.

“I’m interested in the way that entropy plays into art and this dialogue between creation and destruction, and that’s something you see very clearly in the desert,” Wakefield told the Times. “It’s such an extreme environment—so elemental.”

Ed Ruscha, Union, Needles, California from Ed Ruscha’s artist book Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962). Photo: Gagosian.

Ed Ruscha, Union, Needles, California from Ed Ruscha’s artist book Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962).
Photo: Gagosian.

Financing for the event, which will resemble a biennial, but may not actually occur on a set schedule, has come from board members and from the festival itself. It’s certainly not Coachella’s first foray into the visual arts—outlandish, large-scale installations are common during the event, which due to popular demand occurs over the course of two separate weekends—but art typically takes a back seat to things like sponsored parties, boho-chic fashion aesthetics, and yes, performances by A-list bands and musicians.

For Coachella to truly draw the attention of the art world, a serious exhibition (or, at least, one backed by serious art figures) like Desert X is a smart move, though we’d be shocked if it wasn’t met with its own fair share of eye-rolling. While Wakefield cautions that “[a]ll that’s established for now is that it’s a recurring event,” those wishing to be involved with the inaugural exhibition are encouraged to reach out.

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