Take a Photo Tour of a Junk Dada Electronic Wasteland in the Desert
Welcome to Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture.
Sand-covered Installation that Purifoy built in 1996 is an electronic graveyard of sorts, which calls into question their intended uses. Visitors are free to traverse Purifoy's impressive opus, unsupervised, in the barren scrub desert. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Broken TVs, furniture, computers, keyboards, tape recorders, rotary phones, appliances and circuit boards are some of the mundane household items that are piled, abandoned, and left to bake under a furious desert sun.
Welcome to Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture—a Junk Dada electronic wasteland set on a ten-acre stretch of parched land in Joshua Tree, California.
The high desert terrain is one of striking contrast and inclement weather: summer days soar above one-hundred-degrees, and winter nights plunge to below freezing. Sandstorm winds clap against Purifoy's now-rusted and weathered sculptures.
These are ideal conditions for a museum designed and intended to self-destruct, a sort of post-apocalyptic installation art that aliens might've erected to exemplify the materialism of humankind on earth before we became extinct.
Purifoy, a co-founder of the Watts Towers Art Center, is known for his role in the Watts Rebellion and for using art as a tool for social change. In 1989, at seventy-two-years-old, Purifoy moved from Los Angeles into an RV in Joshua Tree and began to make art from other people's trash. By his death in 2004, Purifoy had built a dystopian city of over one-hundred large-scale Neo-Dada sculptures, amid cacti and the eponymous Joshua trees, constructed entirely out of junked materials.
It's a playground that capsulizes and reinterprets the everyday objects, habits and lifestyles of a fifteen-year span of American life. Visitors are free to roam this decayed Dada museum, unsupervised, and there is no entry fee, just an unattended donation box.
Instead of preserving his art for market value, Purifoy encouraged the force of time and nature and people to participate in his creative process—a choice in line with Purifoy's anti-commercial, punk approach to institutionalized art and the art world at large. After decades of corrosion, photographer Aaron Purkey takes us on a photo tour of this eerie electronic and junk graveyard plopped, dramatically, smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Installation from 1996, where electronics go to die, at Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California. Purifoy, whose work is still often overlooked, remains a pivotal yet under-recognized figure in the Los Angeles Black Arts Movement and American Art as a whole. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Various materials constructed out of people's trash, which Purifoy spent the last fifteen years of his life collecting. The Alabama-born artist created over one hundred and twenty sculptures out of found objects. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Samba the Shitzu at Adrian's Theatre' in Noah Purifoy's pet friendly Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California. Much of Purifoy's art reflects sociopolitical themes of racism, isolation and social unrest, galvanized by the Los Angeles Watts Rebellion in 1965, which tore up south LA and sent shock waves around the country. Purifoy redefined and enlarged an idea of black consciousness that was born out of New York during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, a cultural shift that resulted from the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Over the decades, nature has ripped, sizzled, rusted, and torn Purifoy's structures, leaving art that looks like post-apocalypic structures made by aliens to represent the horrors of modern life. He intentionally kept his art out of museums because he was aware that they are places of privilege. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Naomi Melati Bishop in the 'No Contest' Sculpture at Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California. Purifoy, a classically trained artist who received his BFA from Chouinard Art Institute in 1956, was an activist, teacher, social worker, and a Navy construction worker. Photo: Aaron Purkey
A small section of the 'Commisary (Company Store),' built in 1994. Some of Purifoy's structures from the Outdoor Desert Art Museum has been moved to a contained gallery space, currently on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) until September 27, 2016, in a show entitled "Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada." Photo: Aaron Purkey
Old TV and Weathered Furniture in the 'Shelter,' one of Purifoy's walk-in structures of decay and detritus. Purifoy intentionally left the sculptures in the High Desert's harsh weather conditions, which are punctuated by severe desert storms and summer daytime temperatures that hover around 100 degrees, to allow nature to contribute to the creative process. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Junk Dada Electronics inside The 'Carousel' Sculpture. Purifoy, a founding director of the Watts Tower Art Center, worked exclusively with junked material, collected from yard sales and swap meets, to create large-scale and provocative sculptures. His work, spread across ten acres of dusty desert land, reflects themes of social activism. Photo: Aaron Purkey
Inside The 'Carousel' Sculpture at Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California, where electronics are left to rust and sizzle under a blazing desert sun.