You’re driving down Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, minding your own business, when suddenly a group of rabbits catch your eye. Large rabbits. Shiny rabbits. Colorful rabbits.
No, you’re not having an Alice in Wonderland moment. There really are nine giant aluminum bunnies sitting in front of The Atrium, gleaming in the sun in jelly-bean shades.
The installation, “Desert Warren,” is the work of local pop artists Karen and Tony Barone. On Sunday, Jan. 20, they officially dedicated the piece, which will be on view at the shopping center for six months.
“We didn’t know why we do rabbits [in many of our artworks], until just recently, we were talking about the first time we kissed each other,” recalled Tony Barone. “We were in Chicago, in the city. Stone, everywhere. Buildings. And we were in a little grassy area by Northwestern University. And we kissed, and there was a rabbit there, just out of nowhere.”
“It should not have been there,” chimed in Karen Barone.
“It was like a rabbit spirit,” added Tony Barone. “So I think there’s this feeling we have around rabbits that relates to that moment.”
“Desert Warren” is an experiment in funding public art. Each rabbit is sponsored by an individual donor; the rabbits will stay as a group for half a year, and then the donors are free to relocate their individual bunnies to wherever they choose.
Sponsors include the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Vistors Bureau, Dr. Wendy E. Roberts, Mitch Blumberg, Carol and Jim Egan, Neil Sherman and Leo Milmet. Other supporters of the project include The Ritz-Carlton, Hot Purple Energy and The Atrium. At least one rabbit, said Tony Barone, is looking to find a sponsor and has yet to find its “forever home.”
Attendees at the dedication included Rancho Mirage Mayor Richard W. Kite.
Artist Simeon Den performed a Japanese butoh dance as part of the dedication. Adorned in silver body paint, an Asian robe and a rabbit mask, Den performed a mesmerizing slow-motion dance, accompanied by a cellist.
So, why rabbits?
“They make you smile. What’s wrong with that? Our work is about joy and happiness. We don’t try to express our worst nightmares,” said Tony Barone. “We’re encountering all of that, all of us, each day, without trying. We try to express positive feelings.”
The rabbits stand about 8 feet tall and weigh about 150 pounds.
Many people, said Karen Barone, find art intimidating. “Ours is not,” she said. “You can be three years old, or 103 years old, and you can appreciate and love what you’re seeing, and you don’t need an artistry lesson.”