These Boots Are Made for Looking at Art

Marvel at off-the-grid installations from Twentynine Palms to the Salton Sea.

Steven Biller Arts & Entertainment

The Bombay Beach Biennale at the Salton Sea includes Angler Grove by artist Randy Polumbo.

On the extreme desert landscape in the far reaches of Twentynine Palms, unforgiving gusts of wind sandblast a pair of paintings mounted to a metal-frame structure near a jackrabbit homestead cabin. Meanwhile, the Salton Sea shantytown of Bombay Beach bustles as about 200 artists innovate, create, and perform. And five artists from Los Angeles and the desert are finishing their work for an installation opening April 7 on a raw plot of land in Joshua Tree.

This is not your grandparents' desert art scene. It’s off the grid and site-specific. It’s strange, unwieldy, and kind of trippy. You need to know little if anything about art to appreciate this work, but you might want a four-wheel drive to go see it.

High Desert Test Sites has been curating site-specific art since 2002, and in the Coachella Valley, last year’s Desert X was an instant hit among locals and visitors. Art like this wants to connect with people and place. They want you off your couch, exploring the desert, and discovering different ways to look and see.

Land and sky frame a selection of artworks in The Magic Hour, a series of six-week exhibitions on their jackrabbit homestead property on a mesa in Twentynine Palms. L.A.-based artists Alice Wang and Ben Tong erected a modular metal bar structure that holds artworks on the landscape. The first exhibition, No. 1, continues through April 22 and features paintings, sculpture, and textile works by Gracie Devito, Patricia Fernandez, Anne Guro Larsmon, Shana Lutker, and Sarah Rara. Visit from sunrise to sunset seven days a week.



Most of the artwork created for the third Bombay Beach Biennale — whose tongue-in-cheek title pokes fun at elite art biennials around the world — was removed after the three-day event in March. But there’s still plenty to see, including The Bombay Beach Drive-In, The Hermitage Museum (go to Ski Inn to request a tour), and Angler Grove, which artist Randy Polumbo describes as “a psychedelic human terrarium in the bones of a dilapidated bachelor pad.”



Bombay Beach street activity includes musical performances.

The event featured performances at the Bombay Beach Opera House (another permanent installation), as well as concerts, lectures, and film screenings. But organizers want the artwork to bring year-round attention to the Salton Sea and transform this 600-acre town — the lowest in the U.S., at 223 feet below sea level — into a cultural destination.

The wave of site-specific installations continues with the April 7 opening of Available to All in Joshua Tree. Organized by Rough Play Projects, a spinoff of a L.A. collective, the exhibition was conceived on the idea of a lighthouse, a beacon of hope amid a political fight over the proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Five artists — Adam Berg, Kellan Barnebey King, Chris Sanchez (a.k.a. Kas Infinite), Aili Schmeltz, and Stefanie Schneider — have created individual works on a raw plot of land owned by Rough Play cofounder Elizabeth Tinglof. A sixth artist, Sarah Vanderlip of L.A., will add an installation to the site for an Earth Day event April 22 with Mojave Desert Land Trust. Available to All is located at 60461 Chollita Ave. in Joshua Tree.