Monday, July 1, 2019


Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

The desert in Joshua Tree is like a vast sea upon whose shore wash endless tidal waves of flotsam and jetsam.

Strolling about, you’re eventually seized by an uncontrollable urge to collect. After hours of silence and solitude, the thought suddenly arises: Why not spend a whole day — no, a week! — collecting nothing but, say, black lava-like rocks the size of a walnut? There are pieces of desert driftwood that resemble devil’s claws, chips of colored glass, worn smooth by wind and sand, and desiccated cactus skeletons.

As for the man-made detritus, what’s strange is the randomness. Why, in the middle of nowhere, a miniature beaded lamp shade, a corroded doll’s head, a derelict pair of Wahl hair clippers? Why, far from any dwelling, a brush dried stiff as concrete with orange paint, nestled at the base of a cholla?

The desert draws people from two very different ends of the spectrum. At one end are the despoilers: those who dump their garbage, tear up the earth with dirt bikes, or build meth labs.

Then there are people like Noah Purifoy (1917-2004), who over the course of many years in the desert collected piles of the kind of discarded junk described above, made art from it, and created the Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture that is now visited by people from all over the world.


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