During a recent stay at my friend Lulu’s in the high desert, I had the pleasure of visiting a very special place in Joshua Tree — a 10-acre outdoor museum filled with dozens of art installations built by artist Noah Purifoy. Constructed entirely from junk materials, this otherworldly environment is considered one of California’s great art historical wonders.
The large scale sculptures offer the visitors an interactive experience as they are big enough to walk into and view them from dizzying angles. The works range from overt political statements, with installations such as the “White House” (which features a toilet bowl next to a voting booth) and the “White/Colored”, to more site-specific pieces like “Shelter” made from salvaged wood from a neighbors’ house that burned down. Sculptures representing houses, schools, cemeteries, theaters, and boats are spread randomly in what seems like a haunted labyrinth. The dramatic and harsh Mojave landscape and weather accelerated the process of decay on the works making this outdoor museum look even more like a ghost town or a creepy Disneyland.
All this was intentional, as Noah Purifoy beckoned the inclement weather; curious and excited to see what role nature could play in the history of an art piece. Purifoy himself was no stranger to the themes of resistance and change. Before moving to the desert in 1989, he served as the founding director of the Watts Towers in nearby Los Angeles, where he witnessed firsthand the Watts Riots of the 1960s. After the riots subsided, Purifoy took to the streets and collected debris, such as broken furniture and melted neon signs, and channeled his anger and bitterness into a collaborative art piece. Working with artists from a variety of racial backgrounds, Purifoy used the Watts rubble to create 66 Signs of Neon, a symbolic and hopeful representation of change in an otherwise chaotic landscape. Speaking on his most famous work, Purifoy added: “We wanted to tell people that if something goes up in flames it doesn’t mean its life is over.”
For those of you who want to explore Noah’s art, be ready to drive some dirt roads to access the site. Address is: 63030 Blair lane, Joshua Tree, California, 92252. Happy Haunting!