Literary Tours: Palm Springs Art Museum

Tweetspeak’s virtual Literary Tours take us to destinations of all kinds, finding inspiration in places such as art museums, libraries, and natural settings. Today, we tour the Palm Springs Art Museum.


When my family and I arrive in Palm Springs, California, we see people posing underneath and between a giant pair of shapely legs with feet in high heels. As our eyes pan up, we see a 26-foot-high sculpture, Forever Marilyn, in her iconic pose. The front of her ivory halter dress ballooning slightly up while her hands hold it down. Her face tilts skyward, smiling. I mistakenly think she is in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum.

A few blocks away from Forever Marilyn, we climb concrete steps to the recently renovated Palm Springs Art Museum. Its sleek exterior hints at the museum’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art. Not many expect to find a museum in Palm Springs with a Chagall and other notable works of art.

On the main level, we walk through a gallery of paintings by Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966. It is my first introduction to his art and I like the earthy tone and feel of his landscape paintings. I study Woman on a Porch, 1958, the painting of a woman with blurred facial features and short, amber-blonde hair sitting in a chair outside. What is she thinking? Facing the painter at a slight angle, she wears a navy dress with elbow-length sleeves that stands in contrast to the backdrop: a vivid landscape comprised of thick blocks of orange, and thin strips of yellow, dark blue and lighter blue. Is the layer of red, blue and white cutting halfway into the orange and yellow supposed to represent a deck with a hot tub? During his early formative years, Diebenkorn studied under Mark Rothko. Is Rothko’s influence revealed in his blocks of color abstraction in Woman on a Porch?

In another room, I circle a glass sculpture by Masahiro Asaka, titled, Surge 1.2 2011. In its lighted glass display box, the sculpture looks as if it were frozen while the glass was still being blown. I’ve never seen such different textures—smooth, speckled, waves rising—in a single piece of glass. A placard explains Asaka’s “intention is to capture and visualize a frozen moment of glass interacting with forces such as heat, energy, and gravity which affect the sculpture’s formation.”

The winding staircase leads to a larger upstairs floor where I meet internationally acclaimed performance artist Marina Abramovic via a color video, The Kitchen V, Carrying the Milk, 2005. With her dark brown hair pulled back, she wears a black Quaker-type dress while looking down at a bowl of milk held in her hands.

Nearby, when I peer into the center of an open, square chimney built using beige concrete bricks, I jerk back because it’s making me woozy. When I peek down the open center, covered with glass, my eyes follow horizontal strips of industrial-type lighting down a side wall, creating a dizzying downward ladder effect.

On another wall, overhead, tiny white Christmas lights hang vertically, two or three layers thick, from a 4’- 5’ block. But then I spot a shadow, then another, flickering across the lights. Is it a bird, or a butterfly?

A towering sculpture of golden-yellow saucers, precariously stacked on top of each other, appears to spin as I walk around it. The faster I walk, the faster the saucers seem to spin. When I stop, the spinning stops. I’m intrigued by the high-level math and physics needed to create this illusion.

The next sculpture, Nossis, 1999, by Anselm Keiffer, makes me pause. A white plaster dress with three-quarter-length sleeves and a full skirt with billowing folds seems like a bridal gown. An oversized open book, charred black, rests on the shoulders and outstretched arms of the dress. The book’s pages are more visible from the back; while the front view reveals the book’s spine and cover. Was Keiffer inspired by Nossi of Locri?

While we study a giant paint palette on the floor, people stare and point at an elderly couple sitting on the bench by the stairs. Curious, we approach. The elderly man wears wire-framed glasses and his thin grey hair reveals part of his pink bald head. His blue striped golf shirt hides a little beer belly. His wife has curly grey hair and wears a colorful shirt over blue shorts. Her eyes look vacant and her black purse rests on the floor behind her legs.

We laugh when we realize they are not alive despite the realistic varicose veins in his legs. The creator of Old Couple on a Bench, 1995, Duane Hanson, writes, “…as a realist, I am interested in the human form and especially the faces and bodies which have suffered like some weather worn landscape the erosion of time.” As I walk around to examine Old Couple on a Bench, 1995 again, I can’t help but contrast it with the Forever Marilyn statue a few blocks away, frozen in time, face tilting toward the sky, smiling.

Image by Brazilfox. Used with permission. Post by Dolly Lee.

Our virtual Literary Tours take us to literary and artistic destinations of all kinds, including writer’s residences, libraries, museums, galleries, and historical locations.

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  1. says

    My friend Randall studied with Diebenkorn, whose work I love. One of the last and best shows at the Corcoran was devoted to his work; another is to open this spring at AU’s Katzen Art Center (I hope to go).

    I like that your visit exposed you to such an array of artists, some very well known, a few a bit less so, and different media. We have “Woman Eating” at Smithsonian American Art Museum downtown. It is such a delight to go there and watch people’s reaction to the sculpture.

  2. says

    You summarized well one of the things I liked about my visit. I wish we could have had more time as we breezed through one of the two or three sculpture gardens. I looked up “Woman Eating.” Thanks.

  3. says

    I want to see the spinning saucers and the flitting butterfly (or is it a bird?). :)

    Thanks for the virtual tour, Dolly, since my chances of getting to the Palm Springs Art Museum in person are extremely low.

  4. says

    You know I’m gonna go there one of these days. My youngest daughter would love it. We are becoming daily more and more the Old Couple On The Bench…

    • says

      Somehow, I believe you: you will come one day :) Thanks for taking the time to visit with me…I always think it is sweet to see a couple together and happy after many years together :)

  5. says

    Gosh, I miss art museums! Last week I met my dad at a gallery for one particular exhibit but gone drawn into another one–a series of black and white photographs on mental illness accompanied by audio. “Fine Line,” by Michael Nye (husband of Naomi Shihab Nye)

  6. says

    You take us with you well. I love visiting with you, as my chances of seeing with my own eyes are slim. You help me see with the eyes of my heart and my imagination.

    Love it when you write here and everywhere.

  7. says

    Hi Dolly! What a lovely tour of this museum! How fun that you could spend so much time seeing it. Vacation time is so precious, and sometimes it’s a rush too!

    That sculpture of Marilyn Monroe spent several months in Chicago, so I have seen her. So huge!

    So nice to see you here :)


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