Experience Palm Springs Through Art and Architecture Beyond Modernism Week

Palm Springs' desert is home to the Desert X installation of Claudia Comte's "Curves and Zigzags"
Palm Springs' desert is home to the Desert X installation of Claudia Comte's "Curves and Zigzags" | © Claudia Comte, Artist © Lance Gerber, Photographer / Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo of Alex Temblador
31 January 2019

Some may call Palm Springs a “resort town” in the desert, but it exceeds a resort vacation for one reason: art.

Nine cities make up Greater Palm Springs and each pushes forth a selection of art initiatives that create a never-ending inspiring environment. For instance, Indio and Coachella Valley are known for their public murals. While Indio features a mural depicting life in the 1930s with a plaza scene filled with farmers and Model T’s, Coachella’s murals are rich in Mexican imagery like the mirror image of a girl of Mexican descent holding a beating heart in her hands. Furthermore, Palm Desert houses over 150 public works of art, followed by 60 public pieces in Palm Springs.

From countless art festivals like Desert X and the Southwest Arts Festival to the city’s modernist architecture which is a treasure in itself, art is thoroughly ingrained in the Greater Palm Springs culture. Relaxing amenities are aplenty in this desert town, as is an emerging food scene, and a massive community-wide initiative for LGBTQ inclusivity, making Palm Springs an optimal destination for the curated traveler. However, it’s the art and architecture that puts travelers under Greater Palm Springs’ spell and has them dreaming of returning for more.

Art festivals

Greater Palm Springs is an oasis surrounded by desert and it’s perhaps this reason that this valley has managed to attract art festivals that feel as expansive as the nature that surrounds it.

Some art festivals in Palm Springs don’t feature installations or exhibits — like Modernism Week. From February 14–24, Palm Springs’ notorious Modernism Week highlights unique feats in art and architecture over the course of 11 days. Home to the highest concentration of mid-century modern architecture, Palm Springs Modernism Week invites visitors to take part in 350 events that illustrate this city’s creatively-designed homes and buildings. Attendees can admire celebrity homes or getaways like Brad and Heather Fox’s home, of HGTV’s Stay or Sell, or the getaways of Doris Day and Gloria Swanson during a Celebrity Haven Tour of the Tennis Club Neighborhood. And with 350 events, there are endless opportunities to discuss how architecture and art came together to form Palm Springs at multiple parties, fashion shows, double-decker bus tours, lectures and film showings throughout the week.

Modern Garden Tour during Modernism Week | © Scott Baxter / Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau

Desert X was introduced to the Greater Palm Springs area in 2017, and quickly became an overnight sensation, replete with prospective guests scrambling for flights just to see the upcoming 19-sculpture installation in 2019. From February 9 to April 21, 2019, Desert X will feature 19 contemporary sculptures spread across the desert valley from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea. Some of the creative geniuses behind these massive works of art include Pia Camil, Iman Issa, Kathleen Ryan, Superflex and Cinthia Marcelle, among others. Inviting visitors to explore and interact, the immersive sculptures seek to challenge the viewer’s conception of art as a genre.

Desert X installation of Phillip K.Smith III's "The Circle of Land and Sky" | © Phillip K. Smith, Artist © Lance Gerber, Photographer / Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau

Where Desert X and Modernism Week are two of Palm Springs’ largest art festivals, smaller experiences occur throughout the year. One is the First Friday Festival between November and April on the third floor of the Westfield Shopping Mall Garage. This weekly event features street graffiti through all available space of the open-air third-floor garage. In addition, guests can choose from a selection of local food trucks and listen to live music.

Perhaps, a bit larger than First Friday is the La Quinta Arts Festival, which was ranked the #1 Fine Art Festival in the nation in 2018 by Sunshine Artist Magazine and showcases 220 artists from 36 U.S. states, Argentina, Canada, Italy and Nicaragua in a span of four days. And of course, in honorable mention, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, set across two weekends in mid-April, may be primarily attended for musical headliners but is also a mecca of massive art installations and immersive creative experiences.

La Quinta Arts Festival in Old Town La Quinta | © Scott Baxter / Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau

Public art of Greater Palm Springs

In the outdoor spaces of Greater Palm Springs — from nooks to open fields — public art is demanding consumption, from eight-foot sculptures of babies crawling around a dirt pit created by Czech artist David Černý to colorful, culturally-inspired Hispanic street murals in Coachella called the Coachella Walls.

Take a private tour with Tallgrass Hiking & Tours and you can take a lovely drive from Coachella to Salvation Mountain, a visionary hillside monument created by resident Leonard Knight in the desert. Crafted with hay, sand, dirt and colorful paint, Knight’s message at Salvation Mountain is “God is Love.” Or stop by Robolights, a quirky yard full of colorful sculptures and light displays.

A lovely mural that depicts diverse life in Indio | Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau


Despite the endless array of public artwork available in Greater Palm Springs, its variety of museums shouldn’t be overlooked. Palm Springs Art Museum has an exquisite donated or borrowed collection, “much of which has been loaned or donated by the area’s affluent supporters.” It contains works by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Ansel Adams, among many other notable world-renowned artists. In addition to two sculpture gardens, the museum boasts a stunning selection of permanent exhibits that fall under categories like Contemporary Art, Mesoamerican Art, Native American and Art of the West, and Architecture and Design. There is also fascinating rotating exhibits like one titled “Art on the Frontier,” which showcases the work of 75 artists living or working in the Greater West.

Palm Springs awaits the opening of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in 2020 which will showcase artwork by the local Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Until then, visitors should head to North Palm Springs to admire Native American art at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. Set in a four-story Hopi-inspired pueblo building that looks like a castle, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is filled with Native American art and art by Cabot Yerxa, an early 20th-century homesteader of the Coachella Valley.

Cabots Pueblo Museum houses Native American Art in Palm Springs | © David Ian Hughes & Summerland Creative / Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau

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