Reflections on the Landscape


Mirror, mirror on the … wall, ceiling, roof, post. Artists in a new biennial exhibition have used silver-coated glass to let us experience our natural surroundings — and truly see them — in new contexts.

A former colleague and current friend of mine in Palm Springs has been leading tours to art installations throughout the Coachella Valley in the inaugural Desert X that kicked off in late February. On one of my regular visits to the desert earlier this month, he took me and two other people to see a half-dozen site-specific installations. One of them was Phillip K. Smith III’s The Circle of Land and Sky in Palm Desert.

In a vast expanse of raw desert (but easily reached across a wooden walkway off a main thoroughfare), Phillip “planted” an almost-complete circle of 300 mirrored posts angled at 10 degrees. They reflect the land and sky in all directions and alter our view of the landscape as we move around and through the posts. They further change the way we see people around us, “breaking up” their bodies as though we were watching a movie with special effects.

I subsequently visited Doug Aitken’s Mirage — a mirror-covered “house” on the San Jacinto mountainside in Palm Springs — and was captivated by the way the structure completely absorbs its surroundings: the desert scrub, the rocks and boulders, the mountainside, other people — and you. Approach the house and simultaneously see the city below and the mountain behind you. Mirrored overhangs present a topsy-turvy world where land appears above sky. Step inside and the magic continues. Look out an opening and observe how the “real” horizon meets the reflected horizon.

From every vantage point amid these installations, there’s a new discovery. Because they offer different experiences based on the time of day, I plan to visit them again. Meanwhile, I just wish the mirror hanging on my bathroom wall had such mystical powers, especially on a bad hair day.

Below are more photos. To find these and other installations, visit