It was time once again to take my annual trip down from the cold mountains to the warmth of the desert floor and look up something interesting in Palm Springs.
In fact, it was a visit to Palm Desert — and people there don’t like everyone using the generic Palm Springs term any more than residents of Beverly Hills like to be considered being from Los Angeles.
It has been almost exactly fours years since I last visited the Palm Springs Art Museum, at that time it had just opened.
The museum has five entities: The art museum in Palm Desert; the main museum in Palm Springs, which also contains the Annenberg Theater; then there is the Museum of Architecture, also in Palm Springs; and finally the Frey House II. There truly is a lot to see under the banner “Palm Springs Art Museum.”
The Palm Desert location is a small entity and it is easy to enjoy all of its exhibits.
“It is quite intimate,” said Arlene Amick, the managing director who has been with the facility since its opening in 2012. “Not only do we have an exhibition of art here, but outside we have a sculpture garden with 16 different pieces on show.”
The Faye Sarkovsky Sculpture Garden is a delightful place to spend time in this quiet preserve of culture alongside busy Highway 111. Not only are there pieces of art to enjoy, but the garden itself is full of cacti, flowers and desert palms.
I liked the two life-sized Polynesian type heads, called “Laura and Awilda,” by Juame Plensa. They were different from another new arrival, “Eroded Column” by Philip K. Smith III, which was a geometric piece standing about 10 feet tall in its own small garden bed.
The garden is not just used for art, it has become a center point for the community.
“We find the museum has become a community cultural hub,” said Amick. “We have a big selection of activities that people can enjoy. There are yoga classes, and we have collaboration with the regular farmers’ market that draws lots of people.”
A particular favorite is the Galen First Friday events, which bring together music in the form of live concerts and also films and performance art. These events occur the first Friday of every month.
Two years ago, the museum became a free entry establishment and this policy is carried through to entry for special events, although costs can be incurred with the refreshment stalls and other vendors that are available.
Inside the museum, which used to be a visitors’ center until its conversion in 2012, art is displayed in several small galleries. I was drawn to the Roy Lichtenstein work with his characteristic comic book format. It was nice to be able to walk right up to the surface of the painting, which showed his use of dots to build up color.
If you drive along Highway 111 from Palm Springs, it’s easy to spot the Palm Desert Museum. On the corner of the property is a tall red sculpture by Fletcher Benton who was born in 1931. Originally it was black, but the directors felt it would stand out better in red.
“I had to call the artist to see if he would give permission. I was quite nervous about it,” Amick said.
But permission was granted and the tall slim figure acts like a signpost that you have arrived at this center for the arts in Palm Desert.