Coachella 2017: Art is always more than just music at the festival

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While the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has always revolved around music, the festival’s most unique and enduring images – and those most likely to grace fans’ selfies and profile pictures – are the large-scale art installations.

This year’s four major art works, including one that’s 75 feet tall and another that takes up more than an acre of the grassy festival grounds at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, are all about architectural scale and visual impact, said Raffi Lehrer, associate art director for the festival.

Coachella wraps up its first weekend Sunday, April 16, with anticipated sets from rapper Kendrick Lamar and movie composer Hans Zimmer before its encore starts on Friday, April 21. Art-driven pop icon Lady Gaga headlined Saturday, April 15, performing on the main stage, in the periphery of the art pieces.

Tall, boxy animal shapes that look like piñatas wearing party hats loom over one part of the grounds, while another is populated with colorful stucco gourd-shaped plants. A popular selfie spot is a metal frame holding 2,120 convex and concave mirrors.

While last year’s festival featured six pieces, this year “We went for scale and more expansive work,” Lehrer said.

Also unlike last year, none of the artwork at Coachella 2017 appears overtly political. In 2016, “Katrina Chairs” suggested communities left stranded by the 2005 hurricane in New Orleans, and “Besame Mucho” aimed to promote cross-border love and acceptance.

The festival works with the artists it commissions to develop the pieces, but the goal isn’t to make a political statement, Lehrer said.

“Especially in this day and age, everyone’s so inundated with news and politics” that Coachella is intended to be a respite from political conflict, he said.

The art on the grounds this year is more whimsical and confectionary, but it remains a key part of the Coachella experience.

“I think it’s like the perfect setting for it,” said Alyanna Tekulve, 23, who came from Salt Lake City with her husband, Drew, 25, to the festival’s first weekend.

“You’re out here all day, so at least they can have awesome things to look at.”

The Tekulves were admiring “Crown Ether,” a 50-foot work resembling a colorful treehouse village elevated on thick, angular trunks. After seeing it lit up on Friday night, they had to come back Saturday for another look.

Brooklyn-based artist Olalekan Jeyifous, who created “Crown Ether,” said he prefers a venue where people can interact with his work to a “white box gallery.”

Lehrer said that interplay between festival goers and art is one of the goals, but he also hopes to give a broader audience access to art.

“They’re landmarks during the show, a point to congregate and find your friends, and after the show it becomes the icon of that year,” Lehrer said.

When the fans have gone home and the tents have come down and the stages are disassembled, he said, “All we’ll have to remember this by are the photos.”

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