The best of ‘Desert X

 In January, prosecutors in Riverside filed 30 felony charges against two longtime Palm Springs developers and a former mayor in an alleged $375,000 bribery scheme related to building projects downtown.

Ah, the romance of the desert! A place of fierce natural beauty and beguiling spiritual wonder! A rejuvenating refuge from the crushing pressures of modern urban life!

“Desert X,” the ambitious exhibition of new site-specific art installations scattered around the Coachella Valley, is successful partly because the 16 participating artists mostly skirt romanticized desert clichés — or else they engage them, casting a skeptical or parodic eye. Perhaps surprisingly, none chose to consider the springs that made this corner of the desert bloom; but many works burrow into the area’s complex history and heterogeneous present.

In Coachella, the easternmost town in the valley, Armando Lerma has painted a big, charming mural on the side of a modest neighborhood ice cream shop. Titled “The Party in the Desert,” its amiable rural imagery of clowns, a juggler, a table laden with cake and bowls of fruit, assorted revelers, a starburst piñata, some chickens and a couple of dogs, unfolds its narrative slowly.

Lerma’s chosen site on a scruffy industrial strip along railroad tracks looks back to the town’s founding almost a century and a half ago as a siding for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The locale’s modesty reflects the working-class identity of a rough-edged town where more than a quarter of residents live below the poverty line.

Look closely, and the mural sports several small medallions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, saint and protector. In a wry gesture, they are affixed to the wall at places where metal bolts protrude, signaling earthquake retrofitting. Fiesta connects the ice cream store with the town’s largely Latino local population.

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