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Wake up in Palm Springs with the sun gloriously shining and grab your glamorous floppy hat, recyclable water bottle, and sunglasses. It doesn’t matter if the museums are closed because there’s so much fabulous public art to explore in Palm Springs.

Start your walking tour in the Uptown Design District on North Palm Canyon.

First Stop – Palm Springs Desert Art Center

The center for Palm Springs creative arts is the Desert Art Center at 550 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Often overlooked, this grand building is the home for numerous art classes, exhibits, and theatre performances. One of our city’s latest art installations is on the Desert Center’s palatial grass-covered lawn.

MIDABI is an artist and philosopher focused on large-scale public art using text in sculptures and murals. Residing in Palm Springs since 1998, with family roots going back to the 1950s, MIDABI continues a family tradition of contributing artistically to the desert.

Large, bold, and thought-provoking, MIDABI creates works of art that seek to inspire and challenge the viewer to think for themselves and see reality differently. One may feel shaken, for emotional core values may be questioned.

Since you have your walking shoes on, head on down Palm Canyon; along the way, you will see colorful benches to rest upon, which our local artists created.

Second Stop – Koffi North

If you want to have a cup of coffee, you might want to stop at Koffi North. Be sure to go straight through the store to the back and see the courtyard. The locals hang out here during non-Covid times.

Third Stop – Near the Palm Springs Art Museum

Now that your energy is restored, head down to Museum Way and turn right.

Before you get to the Palm Springs Art Museum and located in what we locals call the “Sand Pit,” (and future home of an underground parking lot) are ten sculptures, 11 ft long X 9-foot fiberglass babies. A barcode replaces any semblance of a face.

Czech artist David Cerny has loaned this art installation to Palm Springs through 2022. He wanted to make a statement about the dehumanization of society due to big tech and data. We are betting you will have an opinion.

Check out the wall on your left as you overlook the Sand Pit. You’ll spot a mural by Santa Monica artist, Peter Tigler, who worked with attendees of all ages to create this 7-foot-tall-by15-wide mural at the Annual La Quinta Arts Festival in 2019. Look closely; it was created by finger painting. The bright colors and numerous scenes invoke the sense of “Wish you were here.” It’s a great place to take a selfie to post your social media.

Fourth Stop – Graffiti Park

Across the street from the Sand Pit is our Graffiti Park. While waiting for the area to be developed, artists are encouraged to express themselves through their art. The various cement pillars and stones, remnants of past construction, serve as canvases. The art is constantly changing, so be sure to come back and see it on your next visit.

Fifth Stop – Right Side of Palm Springs Art Museum

The Palm Springs Art Museum is closed, but the parking lot holds a surprise. Check out the Road Signs scattered throughout the premises. They were created by artist Gerald Clark, who identifies himself first as an artist; and secondly, a Cahuilla Indian.

These Road Signs were created for an exhibit of his work in the Palm Springs Art Museum a couple of years ago. Walk to the museum’s right side first, then see the rest of them on the museum’s left side.

Sixth Stop – Left Side of the Palm Springs Art Museum

After you have pursued both sides of the museum, you will see a large semi-truck parked in the parking lot. In the semi is a three-story all-metal house, called the Aluminare House, designed by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher. The house was donated to the Palm Springs Art Museum for its permanent collection and will be reassembled in 2021. It is considered to be one of the most outstanding examples of Modernist architecture in the world.

We hope you have enjoyed this tour of some of our public art. There are many more installations–both inside and outside–scattered throughout the city. However, we wanted to give you a small taste of the many treasures that await your visit to Palm Springs.

Not only does Palm Springs beckon one to come to visit for its countless sunshine days, but there is also a new reason to plan your vacation to this increasingly hip town. At least once a week, contemporary public art is being unveiled.

Palm Springs is quiet and has crispness in the air as one ventures out to get a cup of coffee on Palm Canyon at our downtown Starbucks. Clamoring for your attention is the PS I Love Letters, with its brilliant red color glistens in the filtered sunlight through the palm trees. It’s the perfect place to take an Instagramable photo.

Nona Watson, CEO of Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, conceived the artwork. She enlisted the design talents of Maru Palmersheim, and Palm Spring Canyon Print and Grit Development provided the space.

(This particular morning, a family of three was standing near the sign. The little girl was having fun frolicking around the sign, so we thought she would be the perfect model. The mother later sent us an email requesting a copy of the photo. She is pianist Jeewon Park.)

Unity, a mural with Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman’s portrait, graces one of the “art pit” walls at the corner of Belardo Road and Museum Way.  This temporary art installation will be there through December 2021.

MisterAlex, a Los Angeles-based artist, depicted Amanda surrounded by butterflies. “During my research of Amanda, I discovered she overcame a speech impediment. In addition, during her young life, she dedicated her many hours of hard work to bring people together; thus, I chose Unity for the theme.”

The Fault Line Meditation

Curator and artist, Jevpic considers himself a fortunate man. During the pandemic, he received his largest commission ever. While digging in the “art pit” to create this art installation, many local people supported him. They picked up shovels and helped him develop his vision, which looks entirely different during the day than it does at night.

In Jevpic words, “The path in the shape of the San Andres Fault is a metaphor for the faults we encounter in our life. Faults have existed before us and will be after us. Just learn, grow and move on.”

Guadalajara Artist Gonzalo Lebrija‘s temporary creation, History of Suspended, is directly in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum. The Palm Springs Art Commission worked with the museum to prepare the space and erect the art installation referred to as “A Moment for the Impossible.”

Lebrija wants to encourage thought “suspension of the passage of time – focusing on the precise moment of stillness and impact. This installation encourages one to walk around and even visit at different times of the day. The reflection in the pool also calls one to reflect on the time and space around them.

MIDABI, a Palm Springs artist who has his art in front of the Desert Center Art Center, now came up with another relevant sign. WOW on Indian Canyon Drive, near Andreas, cannot help but make you smile.  When is the last time you saw art that says, “Wow?”

His metal, esoteric sculptures are created using his thought process:  a. Always be a student b. Have a heart of a child and c. Remember you are a human being first and foremost before any other identity.

Popsicles is a temporary art installation near Townie Bagels on Sunny Dunes by Salina, California artist John Cerney. John is known as the “cutout artist” for his larger-than-life creations along California and Midwest highways. This a great place to capture selfies for your social media.

John started as a portrait artist, then began drawing. He noticed barren walls and old barns with expansive walls and convinced owners murals would enhance their spaces. The next step was designing a way for more people to see his figures. At first, he made the life size, but they realized they were not big enough for people to see as they whizzed by on the highways. Thus, these plywood cutouts are now bigger than life.

Besides a vibrate art scene, retail shops are thriving, and new restaurants are popping up everywhere. If you haven’t been to Palm Springs, you are sure to see lots of changes, including constructing the 1.5 acres of new City Park being built steps away from the Palm Springs Art Museum.

So find your stay, maybe even take advantage of a summer special and make your reservation today.

There’s an air of excitement in Palm Springs every October, and not just because of the cooler weather. Running October 14 through 17 is Modernism Preview Week, a mini-version of February’s Modernism Week. This event was originally designed to attract journalists and entice them to write about Palm Springs’ unique architecture.

With few design regulations in Palm Springs, Los Angeles architects Arthur Elrod, E. Stewart Williams, Don Wexler, Hugh Kaptur, and Albert Frey came to the area reveling in the prospect of experimenting with unusual shapes for roofs and buildings. Today, most of their buildings are preserved, and in some cases, also have the original décor. 

During Modernism Preview Week, there are numerous tours available, both walking and through the buildings. Be sure to get tickets in advance at Modernism Week. 

Palm Springs Art Center Architecture and Design Center in downtown Palm Springs. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

Palm Springs Art Museum and local citizens come together

Recognizing the significance of these architects’ impact on the Palm Springs area, a coalition of local residents raised funds to convert the Coachella Valley Savings and Loan building originally designed by Stewart Williams into the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center. (Fun fact: Williams also designed the Palm Springs Art Museum!) Today, with the design help of Marmol Radziner architects, this building holds the papers donated by Albert Frey, as well as other documents and designs by the architects that helped put Palm Springs on the map.

Photo: Kathy Condon

Exhibitions that excite

The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture Design Center is at the end of downtown Palm Springs’ retail shopping district, and a great stop to make after enjoying lunch. Take time to notice the plants surrounding the building, and how the cacti cast shadows onto the windows. Walking through the entry doors, you are greeted and asked to pay your $5 admission fee.

The Modern Chair exhibition will quickly grab your attention, with each chair having its own space so it can be viewed from different angles. Swiss-French designer LeCorbusier designed the oldest modern chair, and its inclusion helps one see the journey of the development of the modern seat beginning in 1905. 

Just some of the chairs in the exhibit. Photo: Kathy Condon

Ribbon chair by Pierre Paul, 1966. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

Heart Cone chair by Vemer Panton, 1958. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

Corrugated chair by E. Frank Gehry. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

The old drive-thru window. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

Did you notice incorporated in the décor is the drive-up window installed when the building was a savings and loan? Next to it, the modernism wall is covered in an easily recognized wallpaper design of the ’60s. 

A book store and gift shop worth the stop

What do you do with a vault that is impossible to move? Turn it into a place to house your vast collection of architectural books for sale. The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture Design Center’s collection of books will help you navigate the world of modernism, with many of the authors from the Palm Springs area.  

A unique gift shop entrance. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

With an architectural theme, the items in the gift shop are colorful and unusual — as an added bonus, many of them are created by local artists. Take the time to browse and ask the knowledgeable staff and volunteers any questions you might have.  

The well-stocked gift shop. Photo credit: Kathy Condon

The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center exhibitions and educational programs change, so be sure to sign up for their mailing list. As you walk out the door, look down. There you will see stars in the sidewalk honoring the architects and interior designers who embraced modernism and helped Palm Springs become a destination that embraces the style. 

If you really want to immerse yourself in the architecture, use the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels website to search for mid-century modern hotels. The best way to cap a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center is by then checking into one of these fabulous properties.

Kathy Condon