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A Trip to the Desert: Noah Purifoy's Desert Museum

After a night of settling in I woke up the next morning to pack up my bag and trek all the way to Joshua Tree where I sought to visit artist Noah Purifoy’s Desert Museum. This was a location that I was first exposed to during Lisa Stone’s “Better Homes & Gardens” course in which I was awarded the Roads Scholarship for Research and Travel. It was a brisk (well, brisk for Los Angeles) morning but I loaded up the convertible, lowered the top, coffee in hand and I was off. After getting away from the typical LA traffic the road opened. The freeways winded trough the terrain and sometimes seemed to disappear within the earthy-brown mountains in the distance. It always blows me away to be a visitor and get a glimpse at what so many must look at on a daily basis and think very little about. Mountains are certainly not something Chicagoans (or Chicago-suburbians) see regularly.

After two and a half hours of driving through the dessert what turned from freshly paved asphalt to loose gravel trails. Dust clouds engulfed the image of the mountainous landscape in the rearview mirror. A small makeshift sign told me I was headed in the right direction, which was a bit of a relief since I was going off of a series of descriptions online and geographical coordinates.

I’m not really sure what I expected but I supposed I figured there would be some sort of staff on site with information, guides, and a ton of roped off works. What I found was a small information box with a guest book as well as a site map. The area was completely open to wander amongst the grounds.

The works were exceptionally large. Full-scale assemblage sculptures surrounded me, many of which made me feel as though I was entering a space almost on a stage. Vignettes of scenes created this awareness of my own participation in each of these memory-like performances. The sculptures created this dynamic space as I wandered through the grounds. I felt myself in the midst of this tension between the vibrant energy of the works and the stillness of the silent desert. There was both this feeling if isolation and desertion (no pun intended) and yet this lively conversation that was going on. Perhaps it was the clear indication that these spaces and objects used had been truly lived in or the fact that they appeared deeply personal to the human spirit at some capacity. I felt as though I was constantly questioning how these spaces and objects were used or how they interacted in their past lives and now how they are interacting as I am now interacting with them in this unique performance.

I highly recommend that you check out the link below to read about the life and work of Noah Purifoy as he was an incredible person that has done some extraordinary things. At some point I’d like to discuss some of the works that moved me the most, so maybe I’ll have a weekly feed of exceptional works. Ultimately this was such an amazing experience to have explored this artist environment and I think I gained exposure to some great ideas moving forward with my thesis work.

Noah Purifoy Foundation website:

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