1986 marked the year when Palm Desert became the first city in Riverside County to adopt a public art ordinance. The ordinance required developers to include art in their development plans or pay a fee into the Art in Public Places (AIPP) fund.
This, in part, led to the creation of the biennial El Paseo Exhibition, a showcase of sculptures along the median on El Paseo between Highway 74 and Portola Avenue. The exhibition is a tangible manifestation of Palm Desert’s dual art mission: to draw more crowds and more retailers, and to foster the creative spirit. The scope is truly global, as the exhibition calls on all the artists of the world.
Eighteen works are on view, placed strategically along the El Paseo corridor in order to achieve maximum effect. Each piece is temporarily installed on permanent pads solely dedicated to the deployment of art. While El Paseo possesses a unique charm, the sculptures add a sense of whimsy.
“Every two years a new collection is selected by the Art in Public Places Commission, then approved by the city council by a vote in an open meeting,” says Deborah Glickman, management analyst for the city.
Not only do the works on view enhance the overall appeal of El Paseo, they are also for sale. Pieces have sold directly off the median, (but may only be removed six months after the installment of the exhibition) and the city itself has purchased pieces which were part of previous exhibitions and added them to its permanent collection. Whether or not a piece is sold, each artist receives a $5,000 honorarium for their work.
The current 2017/2018 exhibition ranges from traditional sculpture to the abstract. Some pieces will no doubt challenge the viewer’s idea of what art “should be.” All of the pieces, no matter how they were executed, form a cohesive aesthetic direction.
For a representational style see Steven Rieman’s Birds in Flight, between San Pablo Avenue and Larkspur Lane. Reiman depicts a larger-than-life pair of birds in mid-flight. Rendered in a soft, naturalistic style, you can almost feel the breeze gliding beneath their wings. Gilbert Boro takes a different approach in his Tres Gatos, a highly abstracted polished stainless-steel homage to the feline. Located on El Paseo and Ocotillo Drive, it is comprised of sinuous curves and reminiscent of odd geological forms.
Artist Gilbert Boro’s Tres Gatos pays homage to the feline.
On the median between Sage and Lupine Lanes is Deeane Wagner’s Yellow Chair, a piece that may throw you off-kilter for a moment. Like something out of a fairy tale, this bright lemon-yellow seat resting on four improbably tall chair legs will challenge your concept of space. Monument to Curiosity by Arnold Martin, located between San Pablo Avenue and Lupine Lane, is a faithful recreation of NASA’s Curiosity Rover sent to Mars in 2011. Its high level of fidelity to the actual rover currently trundling around the red planet is due in part to the use of 3D printing technology.
The Feb. 28 deadline for the 2019/2020 exhibition has passed. However, this will give time to those who wish to apply for the next exhibition to perfect their submissions. Glickman said artists should keep in mind practical matters such as size restrictions and materials. Any artist submitting his or her work will need to come to terms with one of the area’s defining traits: the extreme temperature fluctuations of the desert. Wood will warp, certain paints will peel, and glass may shatter. This leaves, primarily, metal and stone as the go-to mediums of choice, and, when applicable, coated with paints or glazes that will not degrade.
Arnold Martin’s sculpture located between San Pablo and Lupine is a recreation of NASA’s Curiosity Rover.
When asked what the AIPP commission looks for in a piece, Glickman says, “We’re looking for a sense of professional quality, a good sense of place, and something that has the proper context for the region.”
For more information on the El Paseo Exhibition and Art in Public Places, visit
For more information on El Paseo, visit elpaseocatalogue.com.
Steven Rieman’s Birds in Flight sits between San Pablo and Larkspur on El Paseo.