A Photograph of the "Desert Wave" house during sunset. This elevation of the house is clad with blue painted bricks, with a thin roof that forms the shape of a wave. The entry to the house is a discreet, small door found at the top of two gravel steps which cut through the vegetation between the house and the gravel driveway.
This past Saturday, March 25th, BCV held a reception at the historic Miles C. Bates “Desert Wave” House designed by Walter S. White in Palm Desert, celebrating the publication of Hans Baldauf’s monograph Design Legacy of John Marsh Davis: Early Career: Wood Expressionism 1961-1979. The Wave House was originally built in 1955 and listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places in 2018. In 2018, the father and son team Gilbert and Christian Stayner, of Stayner Architects in Los Angeles, purchased the property and began a sensitive restoration of the house. In February 2020, the Wave House opened to great fanfare for Palm Springs’ Modernism Week.
Friends both new and old gathered for a reception celebrating the publication of Baldauf's monograph.
Like Davis, Walter S. White was a supremely talented designer who marched to his own drum. White worked with Rudolph Schindler and Albert Frey as well as for Douglas Aircraft during WWII before establishing his own practice. White’s archive now resides at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Volker M. Welter, a professor of architectural history at UC Santa Barbara, published a comprehensive monograph on White’s work in 2017, available to Apple devices on the Apple bookstore.
Desert X 2023
The American desert has long held fascination and been a source of inspiration for creatives; the desert landscape around Palm Springs is no exception. This past weekend in Palm Springs, we were able to experience three of the dozen installations comprising Desert X 2023, a socially engaged, site-responsive group exhibit on view through May 7th in the Coachella Valley. Reminding us that “the desert landscape is formed by the memory of water,” each of the three installations we visited was powerful in its own way.
The first we saw was Los Angeles-based Lauren Bon and Metabolic Studio’s The Smallest Sea with the Largest Heart which explores the proposition of how to purify Salton Sea water which has been contaminated by pesticides and industrial runoff.
Driving north on Interstate 10, we then visited Matt Johnson’s Sleeping Figure, shown below, which reclines majestically against the San Jacinto mountain range and between the highway and the rail line with its many shipping containers moving to and from the Port of Los Angeles. The sculpture can be read many ways-from a humorous child’s block sculpture to a social commentary of a sleeping giant, the subject of globalization awaiting its awakening.
Matt Johnson, Sleeping Figure. This series of photographs depicts the instillation of stacked shipping containers that loosely represent a sleeping figure. The face of the figure appears as though it has been scribbled onto the side of a grey shipping container with a sharpie pen.
The final installation we saw was Originals, a series of billboards featuring photographs taken by Tyre Nichols, who died as the result of police action in Memphis. Desert X’s curators quote Nichols’ bright-eyed ambition “to one day let people see what I see and to hopefully admire my work based on the quality and ideals of my work.” Set amidst this landscape, the photographs are heartbreaking, and the desert sand blowing past them reinforces the tragedy of his death.
Tyre Nichols, Originals. These are a series of billboard on the side of the highway, with the desert landscape and mountains in the background.
A Sign that warns visitors not to climb or touch the art instillations
From the Stayners’ realizing their projective restoration of the ahead-of-its-time Wave House to Nichols’ poignant testament to our universal human aspiration for empathy and meaningful connection, we are reminded that the desert has historically been a testing ground for experimentation and utopian ideals. As architectural historian, critic, and self-described “desert freak” Reyner Banham had written in Scenes in America Deserta, “The desert is…seen as an appropriate place for fantasies...In a landscape where nothing officially exists (otherwise it would not be ‘desert’), absolutely anything becomes thinkable, and may consequently happen.”