Today we were sent to an open air art exhibit situated on 7.5 acres of land in the middle of the desert. Finding it alone is a feat, and just when we thought we were lost…we were hit in the face with giant scale sculptures that blew my mind.
The sculptures are all “found object” assemblage created with castoff metals, burnt wood, blown-out rubber tires, broken computer keyboards, glass fragments, old toilets and electrical parts, fabric and any other possible junk materials you could imagine.
Some might look at the pieces as rubbish, but I was enchanted and so inspired as I walked through the expansive exhibit. This “Outdoor Desert Art Museum” was created by artist Noah Purifoy, who assembled all of the pieces on site between 1989 and 2004. The works range from overt political statements, as in “White/Colored“, which features a toilet bowl next to a drinking fountain, to more site-specific pieces like “Shelter“, made from salvaged wood from a neighbor’s house that burned down.
It was the dramatic and harsh landscape of the Mojave that inspired Purifoy to create his assemblage pieces, which he referred to as “Environmental Sculpture.” He wanted his works to be displayed in their natural environment to witness the process of decay. Resisting the ideologies of institutionalized art, Purifoy insisted, “I do assemblage. I don’t do maintenance.”
Noah beckoned the inclement weather; curious and excited to see what role nature could play in the history of an art piece. He argued that “changes are an integral part of life itself.”
Themes of resistance and change were a big part of Purifoy’s language. Before moving to the desert he served as the founding director of the Watts Towers in nearby Los Angeles, where he witnessed firsthand the Watts race riots of 1965.
After the riots subsided, Purifoy took to the streets and collected debris from the area, such as broken furniture and melted neon signs, and channeled his anger and bitterness into a collaborative art presentation that turned into a traveling exhibition. Working with artists from a variety of racial backgrounds, Purifoy used the Watts rubble to create “66 Signs of Neon”, a symbolic and hopeful representation of change in an otherwise chaotic landscape. Speaking on his most famous work, Purifoy added: “We wanted to tell people that if something goes up in flames it doesn’t mean its life is over.”
Some critics have referred to Purifoy’s sculptures as helping to “redefine black consciousness in art” and he is known as the father of the black assemblage movement in Los Angeles.
A founder of the Watts Towers Art Center and member of the California Arts Council, he worked tirelessly to bring art to prisons, schools and social programs. He left LA and moved to Joshua Tree in 1988 and worked on his 7.5-acre assemblage opus until he died at the age of 86.
I’m so excited to be able to see more of his assemblage work as I am a huge fan of assemblage art from the 1970′s and I feel like this type of work is coming around again. I found the entire museum fascinating because I see great beauty in creating art out of mundane things and throw away items.
Each piece spoke to me so closely and I felt such a spirit as I walked through the amazing landscape. It wasn’t until after I visited the site that I found out all of this about his work. Knowing now what he was speaking about in his work allows me to understand the feelings I had as I walked through here. Needless to say, I am extremely inspired both emotionally and aesthetically and my mind is racing a million miles an hour thinking about the connection that this work has to what is happening in culture today.
A BOOK FLOWN
|These fragmentations only mean that
I am fragmented;
that as I symbolize what you say and agree
can I then leave you
to set these lines in order,
assemble them into a book
and, by the first strong winds,
permit its leaves to be torn from its cover.
Let them fly high
and, like leaves light
into the lap of the Universe;
separate of and by themselves
within, without, complete, yet incomplete.
Noah’s Joshua Tree “Museum” is preserved and maintained by his old friend, LA art master/trickster Ed Ruscha. It’s free and open to the elements and public if you can find it.
All photos by Lindsay Lohden.