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Other research product . 2022

Asserting Space: Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum

Lawler, Caitlyn Marie;
Open Access
Published: 01 Jan 2022
Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
Country: United States
Between 1989 and 2004, Noah Purifoy constructed over one hundred large-scale sculptures that intersect earth art, assemblage, and architecture spread out across a ten-acre parcel of land in Joshua Tree, California. His works are primarily made from locally discarded and repurposed industrial materials that create a site-specific dialogue with their environment. Across space and time, these constructions have culminated in his Outdoor Desert Art Museum. For several decades, he worked as an artist, educator, and administrator throughout Southern California until the rising cost of living prompted him to relocate to the high desert at 72 years old until his death. In effect, scholars have located Purifoy within the discourses of Black Art, socially engaged art, and the postwar Los Angeles art scene regarding his early bodies of work made in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Rebellion; however, few have written in-depth about his late works. Perhaps this is because his site is not easily categorizable- his constructions sprawl out across the vast desert floor, decentered into various pockets of experiences. Some works recall Purifoy’s past, while others suggest references to modernist art and design, the African diaspora, and African American identities; other works play with commercial graphics and language, defunct technology, labor, and consumerist surplus. Because of the plurality of meanings that emanate from his works, this project examines how Purifoy’s site operates as a re-spatialization of personal and collective narratives through the juxtaposition of material objects to realize potential futures. Furthermore, this project focuses on three particular works: Bessemer Steel, No Contest (bicycles), and Adrian’s Little Theater, as exemplary case studies to examine the real-life implications of space, place, and perspective through compositional forms. In the wake of the current weaponization of critical race theory and education, oppressive policymaking, racialized mass and police violence, this project argues that Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum confronts historical denials of space toward African Americans in the United States while asserting space through memory, movement, and materiality on site.

Art history

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