Joshua Tree is a place that has attracted artists for decades. Now there is a new art complex that can hold work from the many more who are now flocking to the desert for inspiration! One of them is New Yorker Randy Polumbo who fell in love with the desert last year when he spent time in an artist-in-residence program connected to the park called Park Stewardship Throught The Arts (PASTA). Polumbo also fell in love with local artist and Morongo Valley musician Shari Elf and together they created ART QUEEN.
The grand opening of this art-for-art's-sake compound was on September 16th and we were there groovin' with the locals and other big city refugees. Situated on the main drag of Highway 62 in the heart of Joshua Tree Village, ART QUEEN consists of six separate buildings (it used to be an old motel) as well as one recycled Photo-Mat drive-thru booth and one vintage trailer. Two will officially act as gallery space and the others open for whatever it's founders choose to call 'art'...which is a lot!
The old Photo-Mat booth, for example, has been transformed into The Crochet Museum which houses Elf's extensive collection of knit and crocheted found objects. The 'formal galleries' featured Polumbo and Elf's art and a show called "An Admission of Love,"a collecton of paintings by Mojave Desert artist Chris Carraher, also known as Jackadandy.
More than just an all-inclusive art gallery, ART QUEEN is also a not-for-profit bio diesel gas station! It also makes a great outdoor party space. Autumn had just arrived that opening weekend and everyone was relieved that the brutally hot summer (which contributed to the disasterous fire in Pioneertown) was over . This alone was cause for celebration. The delicious homemade eats, the free beer, the music, the laid-back, art-is-for-everyone-and-so-is-the-Chex-Party-Mix vibe of the night had me thinking -- ART QUEEN is like a miniature Burning Man! Okay, more like a teensy-weensy Liliputian Burning Man. My point is: I felt sooooo relaxed and at home there -- something I rarely feel at any art opening. (Certainly not at any at the Gogosian Gallery in Beverly Hills).
"We are tring to keep AQ very low impact" Polumbo told me "so we can do whatever we want there and not care if it ever sells anything. For that reason, and because I think it is refreshing and cool, I don't have a telephone number or website and probably never will." (He does have an email address for the place -- firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Art star Andrea Zittel made an appearance that night. So did Lion's Gate marketing genius and longtime Joshua Tree resident Tim Palen (pictured here appreciating Shari Elf's whimsical paintings -- collected by Harry Dean Stanton! -- that shared the space with Polumbo's "Dildo Lamp" and other bizzaro electro-powered sculptures he creates.) Plenty of other artists, musicians and designers were on hand, as well as "just plain folk" off the street -- all of whom you can see enjoying themselves here. FYI: the next show is called "Hot Rocks" featuring artists who also double as musicians. Included will be work from Daniel Johnston, James Nares, Victoria Williams (who is also a Joshua Tree resident!) and the late David Wojnarowicz
From the ART QUEEN manifesto/press release:
Steeped in American roadside tradition, ART QUEEN strives to bring genuine, pure, and powerful work to its community. Founders Shari Elf and Randy Polumbo, both artists themselves, believe in a fun, and inclusive atmosphere, celebrating thoughtful, inspiring, and accessible work, whether self taught, professionally trained, or serendipitously discovered genius.
All hail the ART QUEEN! Long may she reign!!!