Coachella Valley is an Art Lover’s Paradise

Featuring world-class museums and festivals to stellar galleries

Carolyn Patten Attractions 0 Comments


Framed by pastel-colored mountain ranges and illuminated in clear sunshine, the desert is a natural showcase for art in every form, from contemporary galleries to internationally renowned museums and creative events.

Founded in 1938, the Palm Springs Art Museum is steadily gaining renown as one of the country’s finest small museums, sometimes compared to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Its major collections of modern and contemporary works, glass, photography, architecture and design, and Native American and Western art include pieces from Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg, Antony Gormley, and Ansel Adams.

Its second location, The Galen, Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, hosts internationally important exhibitions and features the 4-acre Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden.

The museum marks a major milestone with the opening of the new Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion in the fall.

Acclaimed midcentury modern architect E. Stewart Williams designed the downtown Palm Springs building, which was formerly occupied by the Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan. After extensive renovation, it will be the country’s first historic structure to be transformed into a freestanding architecture and design museum housed in a modern building.

The A+D Center’s inaugural exhibition honors Williams, who also was design architect for the first museum. An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect will include models, photographs, film clips, original renderings, and drawings to provide a complete view of his 50-year career.

Above is a photo of Williams' Coachella Valley Savings Bank built in 1962. (Photo courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute).

Two hotly anticipated exhibitions this season at the Palm Springs location are Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, a group of sculptures by the Chinese artist and provocateur Ai Weiwei (pictured above); and its companion, Hung Liu: Summoning Ghosts. Hu9ng Liu is one of the most prominent Chinese artists working in the U.S. today, and this exhibition is set to tour nationally. Both shows run Feb. 26-May 24.

Other must-sees include photographer Jennifer Karady’s In Country: Soldiers’ Stories From Iraq and Afghanistan, opening Dec. 13; Personalities: Fantasy and Identity in Photography and New Media, opening Jan. 17; and Eye on Design: Andrea Zittel’s Aggregated Stacks and the Collection of the Palm Springs Art Museum, opening in March at the A+D Center.

Of special interest to collectors is ARTrageous, Jan. 24-Feb. 23, a biennial art auction and exhibition of museum-quality works. The museum also hosts tours and lectures throughout Modernism Week in February and the fall preview in October. (See the photo at right of Indian Encampment by Thomas Worthington Whittedge courtesy of the Palm Springs Art Museum).

Sunnylands Center & Gardens burst into national consciousness with President Obama’s 2013 visit and fast became a magnet for international visitors. The former estate of Walter and Lenore Annenberg, with its exquisite gardens, modernist visitor center, and historic main house, is open to the public.

The popular exhibitions The Pleasure of Your Company: Entertaining at Sunnylands runs through January 2015, followed by the Jan. 25 opening of Love, Friendship, and Diplomacy: Gifts From a Lifetime at Sunnylands. The center also hosts myriad special events, tours, and lectures throughout the year.

Festivalgoers have plenty to choose from as well. November’s Rancho Mirage Art Affaire draws thousands of art lovers to the city for jazz, food, drink, and original works from more than 200 artists.

Indio’s Southwest Arts Festival in January gets 2015 off to a creative start with traditional, contemporary, and abstract fine works by more than 250 acclaimed artists. Mediums include clay, drawing, glass, jewelry, metalworks, painting, photography, sculpture, and textiles.

By February, the desert is in full art bloom with Modernism Week, the 11-day celebration of Greater Palm Springs’ midcentury culture and architecture that draws more than 50,000 visitors from all over the world. During this time, the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair opens at the Palm Springs Convention Center, displaying and selling works from more than 60 acclaimed national and international galleries.

Get a preview of February Modernism events over the Columbus Day holiday weekend in October with the Modernism Show & Sale, architectural walking and bike tours, festive cocktail parties, and double-decker architectural bus tours.

The three-day La Quinta Arts Festival in March (photo above), ranked the No. 1 fine art festival in the nation by Art Fair SourceBook, showcases hundreds of top artists in a lovely park setting with food, drink, and entertainment. La Quinta’s Art Under the Umbrellas runs on select Saturdays throughout the season. The Indian Wells Arts Festival brings more than 200 artists to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in April.

Peruse the area’s gallery offerings during El Paseo Art Walk on the first Friday of each month from November to May. It includes events at The Galen along with El Paseo art galleries, special exhibitions, and refreshments.


At Coda Gallery, view pieces by David Adams, Bye Bitney, James Corbett, and other popular artists. Melissa Morgan Fine Art offers contemporary works by Deborah Oropallo, David Robinson, Albert Paley, and Squeak Cornwath. (See the photo at left of Pedestrians #259 by Jim Zwadlo courtesy of CODA Gallery).

The first Wednesday of each month, Backstreet Art District sponsors an art walk that offers opportunities for visitors to meet local creatives at work in their studios.


Palm Springs’ Uptown Design District is a highly concentrated treasure trove of shopping for those who love retro and contemporary design in art, including the new Jorge Mendez Gallery, as well as home décor, jewelry, and clothing.

The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in downtown Palm Springs gives a rare glimpse into the city’s heritage and its original inhabitants, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Enjoy online and in-house exhibitions, including Birth of the Agua Caliente Band through Nov. 9. This explores the work of six influential Cahuilla to transform three autonomous clans into one tribal band.

Vintage aircraft are the stars at Palm Springs Air Museum, with interactive exhibits inviting guests to climb in the cockpit for a closer look. Look for flight demonstrations, history lectures, and special events.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs gives an inside look at the quirky tastes of homesteader Cabot Yerxa, one of the original fans of recycling, who built the rambling structure in the 1940s using mostly discarded materials found throughout the desert.

The Coachella Valley History Museum features the 1926 adobe Smiley-Tyler House, 1909 Indio Schoolhouse, gardens, and the world’s only date museum.

La Quinta Museum spotlights historic dioramas, photographs, and a shop with books and local artwork.


Where to Go

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
219 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.

Backstreet Art District
S. Cherokee Way at Hwy. 111, Palm Springs.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum
67616 Desert View Ave., Desert Hot Springs.

Coachella Valley History Museum
82616 Miles Ave., Indio.

Coda Gallery
73151 El Paseo, Palm Desert.

El Paseo Art Walk
Art Museum/El Paseo Drive, Palm Desert.

Jorge Mendez Gallery
756 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.

Art Under the Umbrellas
78100 Main St., La Quinta.

La Quinta Museum
77885 Ave. Montezuma, La Quinta.

Melissa Morgan Fine Art
73040 El Paseo, Palm Desert.

Modernism Week

Palm Springs Air Museum
745 N. Gene Autry Tr., Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Art Museum
101 Museum Dr., Palm Springs.

The Galen, Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert
72567 Hwy. 111, Palm Desert.

Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
300 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Fine Art Fair
Palm Springs Convention Center
277 N. Ave. Caballeros, Palm Springs.

Sunnylands Center & Gardens
37977 Bob Hope Dr., Rancho Mirage.

Uptown Design District
Palm Canyon Dr. from Tachevah Dr. to
Alejo Rd., Palm Springs.

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