Ten men stand tall, perched above the Joshua Tree desert. They line up wearily along a rickety wooden bridge – though it might be a hangman’s scaffold. Twenty lifeless feet all point in the same empty direction. Shoes are battered; jeans ripped by the relentless wind.
Their torsos are completely missing, chopped clean at the waist. Twenty legs stand like sun-bleached columns, like broken caryatids. With their wood-stick skeletal frames sometimes pitifully exposed, they are ghostly – desiccated travellers whose train never arrived.
For 15 years, the elderly artist/teacher/social worker Noah Purifoy single-handedly constructed his tumbleweed-strewn Outdoor Desert Art Museum of more than 100 junk sculptures. The place feels miraculous, with strange Biblical overtones: the self-exile in the wilderness; the Old Testament names of Joshua and Noah. With From the Point of View of the Little People (as this staggering sculpture is titled), Purifoy conjured life from practically nothing: ten pairs of used trousers, discarded trainers, a few spare planks. Perhaps, five years into his desert solitude (‘a breeze compared to many things I’ve been through’, he said), Purifoy was assembling a set of friends, or mute witnesses. Or a tireless audience, offering the artist a perpetual, silent, much-deserved standing ovation.
Gilda Williams is an art critic and senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, London, UK. She is the author of How to Write about Contemporary Art (2014); her most recent publication is the reader On and By Andy Warhol (2016).
First published in Issue 200