If you want to boil down the international art market during the pandemic in three words, it’s really simple: follow the money. When well-heeled collectors fled their lofty perches in Manhattan, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, top dealers simply followed them, setting up shop near their clients’ second (or third) homes in East Hampton (Pace Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Kurimanzutto), Palm Beach (Pace, Acquavella, Paula Cooper Gallery, and Lehmann Maupin), and Aspen (Honor Fraser, White Cube, Almine Rech). While these wealthy enclaves have already been staked out by a wave of international blue chip players, the SoCal desert has remained relatively quiet on the art-news front—aside from the return of Desert X this spring—until Glendale-based, artist-run space the Pit decided to open up shop in downtown Palm Springs this summer.
“We’ve been thinking about it for a while,” says Adam D. Miller, a multimedia artist who opened the Pit with his wife, artist Devon Oder, inside a former mechanics garage off Ruberta Avenue in 2014. “We kept taking over more of the garages until we could knock down the dividing walls and make larger spaces,” adds Miller of their annex gallery, the Pit II, which has helped the gallery establish a stellar roster of in-demand artists like Jennifer Rochlin, Keith Boadwee, Craig Kucia, and Bella Foster. “During COVID we used that opportunity to renew our lease on Glendale and we fully remodeled the building, but we wanted to keep expanding.”
Miller hails from Northern California, and the couple were considering a second outpost in the Bay Area, until they realized there were more opportunities in the desert, where they were spending more time with their kids and a lot of their artist friends. Many of their best collectors also have second homes in the desert.
“We saw this potential untapped market, but also a really fun place to be and do shows,” adds Miller. “Since we’re artists we’re always trying to do things that are unexpected, and we saw a lot of smaller galleries expand in cities they’re already in, so we knew nobody would expect this.”
Taking a nod from the blue chip migrations to the Hamptons, Palm Beach, and Aspen, they saw an opportunity in Palm Springs that they couldn’t pass up after a 1,000-square-foot space (formerly the Wabi Sabi Japan Living home goods store) became available. “It was this mix of strategy and good luck,” Miller argues.
This Pit Palm Springs will open its doors this Saturday, June 19, with a group show entitled Oasis featuring a suite of surrealist tableaux—from a dozen emerging painters like Amir H. Fallah, Elizabeth Huey, and Koichi Sato—whose works focus “on themes of the idealized environment and the many physical or personal ways they are manifested ranging from landscapes, and exotic environments to domestic and intimate moments at home and with loved ones.”
From there Miller and Oder hope to use the gallery as a touring destination for “knockout shows” in the Glendale space, a “low-pressure” incubator for emerging artists who aren’t yet ready for a city show, or established artists who are too entangled with other galleries to do a more experimental show of smaller work outside the L.A. gallery system. Or even just as a fresh spot for locally targeted shows for their artists: Keith Boadwee will have an October show during—and in conjunction with—Palm Springs Gay Pride.
“It’s the opposite of our space in L.A. where we’re kind of a destination and people have to be in the art world or in the know, because we don’t have any foot traffic,” says Miller. “But here we’re right downtown, we’ve got a big parking lot right next to us, we’ve got big glass windows and we’re directly across the street from the Palm Springs Art Museum. So people can walk by and just experience it. I like that it’s more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily in our world.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food, news, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.