Exploring Palm Springs, Part II

Palm Springs, long a glamorous retreat for Hollywood stars, is now a flourishing arts community that has recently drawn a new surge of tourists.

I want to abandon New York this winter and join the international snow birds in flying to Palm Springs, in Southern California’s Coachella Valley (which locals call just “The Valley”), to enjoy the ultimate in resort pleasures: natural beauty, year-round sun, golf courses, tennis facilities, spas, hiking, gambling, and vibrant nightlife.

The nine desert towns that compose The Valley include Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella.

It’s just a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego to Palm Springs, situated amid the dramatic peaks of the Santa Rosa, San Jacinto, and Little San Bernardino Mountains.

The temptations of the city’s Uptown Design District include shopping, dining, and cultural events.


I jumped at an invitation to the Palm Springs Art Museum Gala on my last visit. It was the perfect excuse to abandon the cold of New York for the balmy desert oasis.

When founded in 1938 as the “Palm Springs Desert Museum,” it had a multi-disciplinary focus on Native American artifacts, natural sciences, and the Coachella Valley environment.

In 2004, after three decades of growth, the museum changed is mission exclusively to art and theatre, and in April 2005 renamed itself the Palm Springs Art Museum.

In 1974, after several relocations, the museum moved into its current building, designed by the prolific California-based architect E. Stewart Williams.

Today, the Palm Springs Art Museum comprises 28 galleries, two sculpture gardens, four classrooms/resource centers, an artists’ center, and five storage vaults.

The museum’s collection includes works by such artists as Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, and Louise Bourgeois.

The museum’s amenities include the 433-seat Annenberg Theater (seen here), an 85-seat lecture hall, a 1,000 square-foot store, and a café.

A stunning Dale Chihuly glass sculpture is among the Museum’s collection.


“Embracing the Abstract” was the theme of the 2017 Palm Springs Art Museum’s annual fund-raising gala. The museum’s transformation into a mesmerizing, abstract fuchsia-and-bright-orange experience dazzled the more than 350 guests.

The Gala was co-chaired by Diane Rubin and Angie Gerber. Diane, a San Franciscan, winters in Rancho Mirage in one of the iconic homes built by architect E. Stewart Williams.

Gala Co-Chair Diane Rubin and PS Art Museum Board Chair Donna MacMillan.

Honoree and fashion designer Trina Turk with photographer husband Jonathan Skow.

At the gala, painted living “human sculptures” were positioned throughout the garden.

Columnist Jeanne Lawrence with a popular interactive “statue” that encouraged guests to “paint by numbers” on his well-sculpted body.

Bob Hammack and Mayor Robert Moon.

Marek Wiecek and Becky Benaroya, who in 2016 donated $14 million and 225 pieces of art from her family collection to the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state.

Sidney Williams, David Lee, Erik Williams (son of architect E. Stewart Williams), and Rabbi Sally Olins.

Columnist Jeanne Lawrence with Linda Zider and designer and event producer Robert Fountain, whose latest venture is TheBank, a new Palm Springs venue in a former mid-century bank.

Susan Davis, President of the Desert X Board of Directors and Editorial Director for Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s midcentury Sunnylands estate; Mark Hogan; and Cheryl McArthur.

Several generations of art fans attended the gala.

Carol Bell-Dean, Duke Kulas, Edward Dean, Barry Morse, and Candice Connell Morse.

Trustees Leo Marmol and Harold Matzner with Shellie Reade.

Artist Julianna Poldi and photographer Shari Applebaum.

Museum Executive Director Liz Armstrong, John Sacchi, and Trustee Susan Goodman.

Artist Phillip K. Smith III, Modernism Week Director Lisa Vossler Smith, Terri Ketover, Bart Ketover, and Carol Nash.

Andrei Muresan, Trustee Annette Bloch, and Trustees Barbara and Jerry Keller.

Jayme and Ken Jesser, Cheryl McArthur, Mark Hogan, Lori Serfling, and Eddie Whitehead.

Vern Kozlen and Lenny Eber.

Fashion designer Trina Turk was honored for her commitment to Palm Springs preservation and her support of the Museum’s new Architecture and Design (A&D) Center.

Art Museum Board Chair Donna MacMillan and Museum Executive Director Liz Armstrong took the stage in wigs and glasses mimicking Trina Turk’s signature look.


The Japanese ensemble “enra” (always spelled in lowercase) performed a mesmerizing show that combined digital projection, music, and live performance.

enra synchronizes on-screen images with dance while incorporating martial arts, rhythmic gymnastics, ballet, juggling, and club dance.

The group’s name is derived from “enenra,” a smoke-like, shape-shifting Japanese yōkai (ghost) spirit.

Established in 2012, enra has performed in Europe, North America, East and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.


Event planner Tamara Bolton pulled off a stunning evening. Every detail was in accord with the evening’s abstract art theme.

Creative lighting and a multi-colored floor were among the details embracing the abstract theme.

The décor was so dazzling that I didn’t spot the glass face in this centerpiece until I looked through my photos later.

The meal by Savoury’s Catering was a work of art: This architectural salad course was topped with a lavash ring and served under a glass dome.

Dessert was equally beautiful: Panna cotta and pistachio cake were garnished with berries and a Jackson Pollack-esque sugar swirl.


The after-party in the Clayes Wing of the museum offered diversions, cocktails, and dancing.

Guests had fun with the colorful photo booth and matching props.

Museum Executive Director Liz Armstrong with Athalie Laguerre and Adnan Pamukcu.

San Franciscans Linda Zider and Julie Coplon.

Virginia and Marvin Gans.

The Shaken Not Stirred Band kept the dance floor vibrating until the wee hours.

Lenny Eber and Gala Co-Chair Diane Rubin were among the last to leave the party.


During the party, guests meandered through “Women of Abstract Expressionism,” the first major museum exhibition to fully acknowledge the contribution of women to the genre. After World War II, Abstract Expressionism was the first uniquely American art movement to achieve international influence and elevate New York City to displace Paris as the center of the Western art world.

More than fifty paintings were on display, by twelve artists: Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Sonia Gechtoff, Judith Godwin, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Deborah Remington, and Ethel Schwabacher.

The museum noted that until recently, women’s contributions to the Abstract Expressionism movement were largely ignored, and their canvases undervalued.

Linda Zider and Jeanne Lawrence.

Painter Elaine de Kooning’s Bullfight, 1959.

Painter Joan Mitchell’s Untitled, 1952.


A recent preservation effort by the Palm Springs Art Museum is its new Architecture and Design Center (A&D), Edwards Harris Pavilion, which opened in 2014. Formerly a modernist bank designed by famed desert architect E. Stewart Williams in 1961, the 13,000 square-foot glass-and-steel building features floor-to-ceiling windows and the original (now restored) terrazzo floor and bank vault door.

Among the more than 130 founding members and donors who made the Center possible were Trina Turk and her husband Jonathan Skow, Elizabeth Edwards Harris, and John Boccardo.

The new A&D Center is home to exhibitions, educational and community programs, research space, and storage for the museum’s growing architecture and design collections and archives.

Architect E. Stewart Williams’ daughter-in-law, Sidney Williams, curator of Architecture and Design at the museum, spearheaded the A&D Center.

Included in the A&D exhibition, “On the Grid: A Look at Settlement Patterns in the High Desert,” artist Andrea Zittel’s Lay of My Land addressed the history of western expansion.

The A&D Center holds significant portions of the archives of Albert Frey, E. Stewart Williams, Arthur Elrod/Harold Broderick, and Hugh Kaptur.

The A&D collection also includes Frey House II, the historically significant residence in Palm Springs that architect Albert Frey designed for himself in 1963.

An interior at the Frey House, which architect Albert Frey bequeathed to the Palm Springs Museum upon his death in 1998.

I love “The Desert” more each time I visit; and no visit is complete without a trip to the museum. This fall, I’ll be sure to register early for Modernism Week February 15–25, 2018, so I can experience more of the mid-century architecture and design for which this region is so famous.

Read Part I of my Palm Springs coverage: Art Happenings in Palm Springs, Coachella Valley


Photography by Jeanne Lawrence; David Glomb and Dan Chavkin courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum; VisitPalmSprings.com.

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