Sterling Ruby's "Specter" from Desert X, 2019.

While COVID-19 continues to sideline most events on the international cultural calendar, one is going ahead as planned: Desert X in Palm Springs, Calif.

The recurring art exhibition is slated for Feb. 6 to April 11, 2021, at outdoor sites spanning 40 miles in the Coachella Valley, offering artists one of the few opportunities to reach a wide live audience during the pandemic.

Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille has signed on as presenting sponsor, and organizers say other luxury brands are expressing interest in getting involved, particularly since there are so few live events happening around the world.

The first two editions of Desert X in 2017 and 2019 drew about 600,000 visitors with such works as Sterling Ruby’s florescent orange monolithic “Specter” and Pia Camil’s “Lover’s Rainbow” sculptures, which became popular attractions (and Instagram backdrops) in the desert landscape.

Next year’s event will feature newly commissioned projects from a group of artists curated by artistic director Neville Wakefield and co-curator César García-Alvarez, who is the L.A.-based artistic director of contemporary art space The Mistake Room.

Newly elected board directors include designer/author Kelly Wearstler and Apple industrial design team member Alyse Archer-Coité.

“We felt a show like this at a time like this could help protect people from loneliness and lack of community, and give some nourishment for the soul to take us out of our own heads, and hear what other people are thinking about through their art,” said Desert X founder and president Susan Davis, while acknowledging that some things might be different about next year’s event, which will include health ambassadors and moderated traffic flow at the open-air sites.

A New York public relations veteran with training in art history and contemporary art, Davis moved to Palm Springs in 2010, bringing with her a preconceived notion that the community was just about “golf courses and swimming pools.”

Once she got to know the diversity of the area — including its Native American heritage, agriculture business, and pioneering Gold Rush-era characters, in addition to the rich modern architectural history and impressive Palm Springs Art Museum — she wanted to create an event to connect it all.

She realized that the desert’s wind farm, mountain and palm tree environs would be the perfect canvas for an event continuing the legacy of the Seventies Land Art movement — “a site-specific art project that would take people from one end of the Coachella Valley to the other and help them understand not only the art but the community through a different lens, and realize they are in a place better than they thought they were,” Davis said.

“Desert X is a spoke of a cultural wheel that included Coachella and Modernism Week,” said Wakefield of the free event’s rise in popularity — and unique opportunity to push forward during the pandemic where the others have not.

The next Desert X will dig deep into several local issues of interest, including displacement, environmental conservation and racial inclusion. “We have a project that involves school children and another that examines land rights,” said Wakefield. The artist lineup will be revealed at the beginning of next year.

As for signing on to sponsor the event, chief executive officer of Richard Mille Americas John Simonian said, “Where our timepieces are tiny universes compared to the site-specific art installations coming to the Coachella Valley, we are all striving in our respective formats to challenge conventions, celebrate cultures, and foster dialogue about larger concepts, including the nature of time itself. We anticipate the people who attend Desert X, over the course of two months and the expanse of many miles, will step outside the familiar and interact in a meaningful way with this remarkable time and place.”

Pia Camil’s “Lover’s Rainbow” from Desert X, 2019.  Courtesy

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