Desert X in California postponed as Covid-19 cases rise

Set to open in February, the exhibition is on hold as lockdown restrictions in the US return

This year's Desert X in Coachella Valley, California, has been postponed as the US state tightens lockdown restrictions amid rising Covid-19 cases.

Now in its third iteration, the biennial desert festival focuses on presenting site-specific contemporary art that responds to the natural environment. Meant to run from Saturday, February 6 to Sunday, April 11, the 2021 event has been put on hold, with no new opening dates announced.

In a statement, Desert X organisers wrote about the postponement: "In light of the urgent health crisis and surge in cases of Covid-19, the only responsible way forward to protect our community, healthcare system, artists, visitors and all those who volunteer and contribute to the exhibition, is to wait until we are out of the lockdown period before opening to the public."

On Monday, data from Johns Hopkins University recorded 30,000 deaths in California since the pandemic began. The surge has been increasing since October, averaging at 476 deaths per day last week.

In December, California's governor Gavin Newsom reinstated stay-at-home orders in the state as hospitals are stretched to their capacity. The lockdown rules are in effect until mid-January, and will likely be extended as health officials have warned case numbers may still rise following infections from the holidays.

Desert X 2021 was slated to have both digital and physical presentations of the artworks.

Its first exhibition took place in 2017 and featured works by Doug Aitken, Jennifer Bolande and Sherin Guirguis. Desert X’s artistic director Neville Wakefield curated the show in 2019, which presented works by Ivan Argote, Iman Issa and John Gerrard.

Last year, organisers collaborated with the Royal Commission of AlUla in Saudi Arabia to present a Middle East iteration, Desert X AlUla. Wakefield put together the AlUla exhibition with two Saudi curators: Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza. This year, Mexico-born Cesar Garcia-Alvarez, founder of Los Angeles’ contemporary art space The Mistake Room, joins Wakefield as co-curator.

The line-up for the 2021 exhibition has not yet been revealed, though Desert X organisers have stated that the works have already been installed. “The artists’ projects are ready, and the Desert X team and board will identify a new opening date as soon as we believe we can safely do so. Once opened, the exhibition will be free and open to the public for nine weeks,” the statement said.