Essays Assembly Required: Noah Purifoy’s Desert Cure

The Transformative Art of Noah Purifoy

Late one winter morning I drive off the asphalt and onto the loamy, rutted earth at the outer reaches of the village of Joshua Tree in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. I am on a pilgrimage to see the work of assemblage artist Noah Purifoy, who in 1989 abandoned his longtime home in Los Angeles and remained in the desert until his death in 2004. On a ten-acre parcel near the perimeter of the Marine Corps Air and Ground Combat Center (half a million acres of chocolate mountains and sand dunes that serve as a simulacrum of the Middle East), Purifoy, one of the founders of the Watts Towers Art Center that rose from the ashes of the 1965 riots, spent the final years of his life creating the monumental “Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture” made from tons of discarded materials. The “Environment” (the nickname a few critics and Purifoy himself sometimes used) is an astonishing feat of the imagination as much as it is a physical one.

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