Is Coachella an Art Museum for the 21st Century?

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In times past, Coachella was only about the music but the huge art installations are increasingly central to the total experience, so much so that one designer calls music festivals the “art museums of the 21st century.” Hear all about it in this segment with Jason Bentley, Alexis Rochas and Andreas Froech.


Thousands descended on Coachella over two weekends to hear bands including Lorde, Pharrell Williams and Queens of the Stone Age.

And when fans weren’t watching bands they could mingle among gigantic art installations: among them an animatronic astronaut (below), a field of large mirror-walls and a huge, colorful mobius strip-like structure called Lightweaver (above).

In times past, Coachella was only about the music but the art is increasingly central to the total experience. Hear why in this segment with Jason Bentley, Alexis Rochas and Andreas Froech. Benjamin Gottlieb reports, below.

Coachella’s Massive Art Installations Upstaging Musical Performances

imageFrom its relatively humble beginnings 15 years ago, writes KCRW’s Benjamin Gottlieb, “the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is now – without doubt – one of the most anticipated music festivals in North America, with attendance this year hitting the 90,000 mark per day.

With the acclaim comes a laundry list of stereotypes: it’s bastion of drug abuse; overrun by hipsters; an excuse for tasteless and often needlessly provocative clothing; swarming by teenyboppers. Take your pick.

But what’s become increasingly clear that the festival’s massive art installations, which often take weeks, if not months to construct, are just as much of an attraction as the headline musical performances.

photo 2Case in point: Last Saturday, during Coachella’s Weekend 2, the line to enter the Cyrochrome art installation – a psychedelic color tunnel best understood as Coachella’s take on a planetarium – was hundreds of people long during the festival’s peak evening hours. Evidently, concert-goers would rather wait close to an hour for the exhibit, which only allows a handful of people in at a time, than watch live performances at one of the festival’s six stages.”

“Music Festivals are the Museums of the 21st Century”

KCRW’s Jason Bentley spent both weekends there as host of Coachella’s webcast; he says that festivals are always trying to find ways “to create a meaningful experience” and that Nevada’s famed Burning Man has been an inspiration in terms of the creation of a total environment.

Astronaut by Alex PierosUnlike Burning Man, however, Coachella’s art is not created by the participants; rather it is commissioned at considerable expense by Goldenvoice, the festival producers. DnA asked Jason if this was a more corporate, “designer festival?”

Bentley says that “even though the festival goers aren’t necessarily encouraged to create the art, they are able to exist within it if for a moment, and I think that’s really profound for people to feel like for a moment that they are in a work of art.”

Alexis Rochas, of, is the designer of Lightweaver and he makes the point that festivals like Coachella have become the de facto “museums of the 21st Century,” offering the participating artists the chance to pull out all the stops to make a spectacle that will be seen by 200,000 people in the course of three days, more than would ever attend a museum in the same amount of time.

His partner at, Andreas Froech, who spent a week before the concert started building the complex spaceframe structure, adds that Coachella is aiming for an exceptional standard of quality, from the sound and lighting to the quality of construction as well as the vast scale of the installations that, when set against the backdrop of desert and mountains, make for a stunning display.

Learn more about and the new partnership between Alexis Rochas and Andreas Froech, here. Read this story by KCRW producer Benjamin Gottlieb for background on the growth of art at Coachella.

Images, clockwise from top: Lightweaver, courtesy; Becoming Human, a play on the intersection of technological innovation and nature; photo by Benjamin Gottlieb; Escape Velocity, an enormous astronaut that meandered across the festival on top of a forklift, photo by Alex Pieros; video of Lightweaver, courtesy; Keith Greco created a “Main Street” of small pavilions called Archetypes, photo by Alex Pieros; Cyrochrome, an interactive, kaleidoscopic tunnel of color, photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

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