An glimpse of the Bombay Beach Biennale.


BOMBAY OR BUST: As brands and marketers continue to swarm music festivals, a less commercialized venue gets underway this weekend on the West Coast.

The top-secret Bombay Beach Biennale is a mash-up of art, music, film and philosophy set in the desolate California community of the same name. Located on the southern end of the San Andreas Fault near the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is nearly abandoned, pretty much unrecognizable from the high-flying resort town it was in the Fifties and Sixties when Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys performed and went sport fishing there. Besieged with environmental problems like pollution, toxic fish and algae in the Seventies, the community has since pretty much dispersed.

Hoping to revive the community and draw attention to the area, the biennale does not charge admission to the festival or such attractions as Lectures in the Ruins, International Art Pavilions, the Bombay Beach Drive-In and the Bombay Beach Intergalactic Space Station. Organizers are encouraging attendees to support local establishments in what is known as “the town that once was” and is located 244 feet below sea level. Festivalgoers can also make donations to support the artwork which includes scale models of recently unearthed urban plans found in an abandoned Bombay Beach house.

The generally elusive Gary Oldman just signed up for the roster with a screening of “The Carnival of My Dreams,” Lauren Vance’s documentary that chronicles the lives of Slab City, Calif., and the work of wet plate artist Ian Ruhter. Oldman’s upcoming roles include Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” as well as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and “Hunter Killer.”

He appears in “The Carnival of My Dreams” and helped produced it too. For the film, they turned a house in Bombay Beach into a giant camera obscura with the world’s largest wet plates. The three-day event also will feature Kenny Scharf, Jen DeNike, San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Maria Kochetkova, James Ostrer and Yassi Mazandi among others. Artist James Ostrer is transforming the facade of a tear-down that the founders bought for an indoor-outdoor stage where Kochetkova will dance. And New York artist Greg Haberny is working on an exhibition for the biennale’s Hermitage Museum which will be housed in a dilapidated museum.

The Bombay Beach Biennale has been pulled together by Lily Johnson White, a Johnson & Johnson family member and Creative Time board member. Also on board is Stefan Ashkenazy, whose family created the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, and is working on two new luxury hotels in Los Angeles. Rounding out the trio is Tao Ruspoli, whose father Alessandro Ruspoli was a source of inspiration for Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.”

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