I can thank a snow storm for giving me the opportunity to visit the Palm Springs Art Museum in early February 2019. We were down the mountain for a dental appointment and could not drive home because the roads were closed. Palm Springs isn’t a shabby place to get stuck. Dan had a lot of work to do, so to give him privacy, I headed to the Palm Springs Art Museum, which is located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, just a ten minute walk from our hotel.
The first art that I encountered, was a sculpture area adjacent to the parking lot. It featured enormous babies crawling through a sand box. To be honest, a touch creepy. I viewed the art from above, but it appeared that there was a way to walk into the area and right up to the sculptures. I visited on a rainy day and it was drizzling, so I didn’t linger.
Here are some shots taken in front of the museum, more sculptures and a few banners advertising the latest special exhibition: Unsettled: Art on the New Frontier.
Adult admission was only fourteen dollars and I easily spent three hours enjoying the museum.
The lobby featured a huge dog sculpture by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, titled Your Dog.
Although technically not a piece of art, I had to take a picture of the staircase chandelier. It’s so eye-catching!
I started with the special exhibition, Unsettled: Art on the New Frontier, which focused on Western expansion, colonization, and the mistreatment of Indigenous people. The special exhibition spanned a majority of the lower level of the museum and I had the option to either start on the left or right. There was no single way to tour the exhibition.
I started to the right, drawn in by Brian Jungen’s large totem poles created from sports equipment and his mask made from Air Jordans. The pieces are a statement on the sports industry, which often shows insensitivity through cultural appropriation.
Chris Burden’s All the Submarines of the United States of America, features a model of every submarine in the USA fleet from the 1800’s-1980’s. It is staggering. I could feel the unease of the other museum patrons, as we took in this shocking exhibit. Reading about the installation, it mentions revealing the power of something that is usually unseen, making it visible.
Ana Teresa Fernandez’s oil painting, Erasing the Border, tackles the opposite issue, Trump’s proposed border wall, a very visible symbol of power, something that is also very unsettling. In her work, she is shown painting the bars to match the nearby ocean, an attempt to render them invisible and to diminish the power. This also asks the question, who is really trapped by the wall?
A dark and bizarre time in the American west comes courtesy of WW2 and Atomic testing. I say bizarre, because it spurred a whole atomic culture and in a way was romaticized. Bruno Fazzolari pokes at this mix of romantic with horrific, with his mushroom cloud shaped perfume bottle, titled Unsettled. The bottle comes with a companion piece, a poster advertising both the perfume and the art exhibition.
Next to the bottle and the poster, were samples of the perfume created for the exhibition, which could be purchased at the gift shop. A signed invited us to experience the samples, but it was a funny thing in an art museum, where we are generally not allowed to touch the art, so most people observed and would not touch, even after reading the sign. I spent about fifteen minutes surreptitiously watching people react to the Fazzolari’s work.
Ed Ruscha’s Atomic Princess, also plays with the idea of atomic age romanticism. I like the simplicity of this work, leaving so much up to interpretation. A nearby sign mentioned Atomic age beauty contests, which again, so strange and disturbing with the passage of time.
Nearby, I was able to experience Ruscha’s Chocolate Room, a room wallpapered with sheets of real chocolate. It had a sickly smell. Many years ago, I attended an exhibit at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where they had a installation comprised of WW2 era chocolate that was rotting. The smell was nauseating. Ruscha’s Chocolate Room is not nearly as old and has undergone refreshes, but it still had an unpleasant smell.
Also fragrant, were these bowls filled with colorful spices. I could not find the artist who created them, but I found myself overwhelmed by difference senses ( a lovely way, distinctly different from the chocolate), as I took them in.
Throughout the exhibition, there was poetry by Aku_Matu. I really responded to how Unsettled blended visual arts with the written word.
This one, I could not stop thinking about and I’ve shared it with many friends.
After Unsettled, I headed to the two upper levels of the museum, which primarily focused on Modern Art. The show-stopper piece is an enormous blown-glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly.
Unfortunately, I did not record the name of the artist, but I was taken by this disturbing sculpture of a multi-headed horse.
I love these two whimsical metal sculptures. The first is Henry Moore’s Helmet Head No. 2 and the second is Picasso’s Angry Owl. The owl was in response to people who insisted on high-brow art and Picasso didn’t want to comply. Plus, he loved owls and even had a pet owl!
I like art that invites you to participate; peer inside to find an infinity drop. I’m not sure who created this, but it certainly sparked comments from the nearby museum goers, who were also taking a peek.
Unsettled wasn’t just the name of the exhibition, but also my general feeling towards much of the art through the museum. My biggest reaction came from Louise Bourgeois’ enormous black spider sculpture that was mounted on a wall. As if noticing a real spider on a wall, I kept one eye on it as I toured the gallery. Real or Art, spiders immediately invoke a primal fear from somewhere deep inside of my being.
Next to the spider, was a cartoonishly tall and ghostly figure of a dress without a body. Also, nightmarish, especially as it casts an intimidating shadow.
I moved on in the gallery, particularly mesmerized by Deborah Butterfield’s life-sized bronze horse titled Ryuanji.
The museum was nearly closing, so I quickly ran through a few more exhibits on the lower level: beautiful glass work, mid-century modern furniture, local Native American art and a small section on tourism in Palm Springs, including vintage photographs.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is a real treasure and I look forward to future visits. I cannot believe that I’ve visited Palm Springs dozens of times, yet had never visited this museum. It is not to be missed!