High Desert High: Noah’s Art
The NOAH PURIFOY SCULPTURE GARDEN in Joshua Tree is well-served by its setting: the surrounding vastness, the endless sky and the roaring silence of the desert, all allow the artist’s voice to speak to the viewer directly. And, without the intrusion of nameplates, wary guards and gawking crowds, it’s easy to get lost in the work and read into the pieces one’s own thoughts … There’s so much here to see and feel that I was overwhelmed, taking over 500 photos. It goes without saying that I loved it, was moved by the work and found the artist’s voice irresistible … I hope you enjoy these glimpses into this amazing artistic triumph … and as with others, click once, then again on each photo for a much-closer look …
Many of the pieces in the sculpture garden reference buildings, as well as institutions, like this little church-like wooden piece. Not a little unsteady, with its cross askew … its lack of windows and doors forbid entry as well as interaction with the outside world. Note the tiny crescent moon in the sky near the cross …
More structures; most invite the viewer to come inside. Some are rustic and inspired by Native American dwellings; at least one seems post-Hellenic, and one is painted whimsical colors in honor of the little girl that inspired it (the small daughter of a fellow artist). Walking through these spaces, I see tableaux of family life, of solitary lives spent waiting to die, of bizarre institutional and mechanical rituals, and private moments probably not meant to be seen.
This amazing cubist bungalow-on-stilts glowed in the afternoon sun. It seemed to have just returned from a planet where geometric forms dominate and the interlocking plane is favored by even the common folk.
A huge funhouse of creaking plywood and precariously-perched bowling balls, this piece called ‘White House’ was both scary and hilarious … Full of amazing friezes, stacks and assemblages, with metal arches and random stairways, it ends with an enclosed room of multiple toilets perched one atop the other, with seats mounted and gaping on a plywood wedge. Political statement? I say, hell yes.
Arches that seem to be moving with an invisible wind lead to the mysterious found-object doors of this quonset-type building. Again, an otherworldly, interplanetary mission is implied … I can’t help but wonder what exactly is behind those magnificent sliding metal doors.
A tiny shingled fulcrum for two playful bicycles; a billboard-like grid of discarded computer boards; a three-dimensional scribble painting in tangled metal garden chairs; a row of spectator shins — complete with pants and boots — on scaffolding … singular sights and free-standing sculptures. Each is audacious and delightful in their own right …
Stacked and mounted bowling balls make like sentries, reaching alarming heights with the help of concrete and wood. Simple materials have become totemic and imbued with new purpose.
A simple cart loaded with folding metal chairs waits to deliver the newly-saved to the river for baptism, unmindful of the surrounding dryness … elsewhere a preposterous railway meanders, its cars an unsteady combination of bicycle wheels, beer kegs and dryer piping: all aboard!
Many of the sculptures, although hardly representational of human beings, seem like someone I’ve met before. They include: that too-cerebral guy who has one point of view, and only one; three messy friends who refuse to grow up; a lonely desert denizen who collects cans for pocket change and haunts the Circle K before his disability check arrives on the 1st; Miss Stands-On-Ceremony; and the collector of metal objects (he loves their shape, rust and former purpose; namely: me).
Assorted Machines of Esoteric Function make a stand in the landscape. Their purposes seem, by turns, friendly and sinister … some of these hulk and bluster while others seem in need of a repairman who’ll never arrive.
The most affecting piece was this simple, circular pile of discarded shoes … they read as victims, or as having belonged to victims. Very unsettling and frighteningly intense in the quiet … curling and trying to hide from the sun, these shoes seem like society’s human discards.
This post is in no way representative of what-all the sculpture garden has to offer. I was forced to leave out a lot … but please, go … it’s beyond fantastic! Although the garden is taken care of by the Noah Purifoy Foundation, there’s a fragility about the entire site; I know that it can survive only so many years in the unearthly heat and freezing cold of the the Mojave Desert’s extreme temperatures … it would be a shame to miss it; I can’t wait to go again!
Click here for the Noah Purifoy Foundation‘s website, including map and directions.