At the Bombay Beach Biennale: "The Water Ain't That Bad, It's Just Salty" by Damon James Duke and Chris "Ssippi" Wessman with the Bombay Bunny Club. Barry Mulling

Artists are bringing new life to a town on the dying Salton Sea

Decay festers all around at the Salton Sea, the vast inland lake in Southern California that once hosted beauty pageants and boat races in its tourist heyday.

Pollution, drought, and blistering heat conspired to end the fun, killing off fish en masse and leaving communities abandoned along the shore.

But new life is moving into the breach. At Bombay Beach, artists drawn by the cheap prices and surreal setting have been snapping up lots and crumbling buildings as gallery spaces.

The signature event of the year is the Bombay Beach Biennale (it actually happens yearly), a free three-day festival of art, music, and ideas that was held last weekend. It included DJ dance parties, a post-apocalyptic drive-in, lectures on postmodernism, and dozens of art installations and performances.

The vision for the event, which was started a few years ago by creative types from Los Angeles, is to establish a lasting outpost for art in the square-mile town of roughly 150 full-time residents. Many of the large-scale works remain on display year-round.

“It’s really more of a block party,” said Lauren Brand, a festival organizer. “It’s meant to be a celebration of and for the residents of Bombay Beach.”

The festival’s creators have been wary of allowing it to grow into a Burning Man-like colossus. That’s one reason why, leading up to the event, the dates are kept secret. Those who score tickets agree to a strict policy: No spectators allowed; everyone participates.

The festival shared a bunch of photos captured during the festivities last weekend. Here’s a selection.

Axon Orchestra led a parade.

Scott London

“Drive-In” by Stefan Ashkenazy, Sean Dale Taylor, and Arwen Byrd.

Scott London

“Lodestar” by Randy Polumbo.

Scott Pasfield

The Toledo Show put on a performance.

Oscar Contreras

“SHOWTOWN” by Team Gonzo.

Stefan Ashkenazy

“The Open House” by Keith Jones and Lee Henderson.

Damon James Duke

The festival has a rule: Everyone must participate.

Scott Pasfield

Several hundred people showed up for the festival.

Anne Meloyan

“Levitation” by Josephine Wister Faure.

Tao Ruspoli

A billboard recalled the Salton Sea’s days as a tourist mecca.

Damon James Duke

The tiny Bombay Beach community was mostly abandoned. But artists have been moving in.

Daniel Gerstenhaber

“Swingers & Sliders playground” by Olivia Steele.

Scott Pasfield

“Bloodmoon” by Gesine Thomson.

Barry Mulling

Vera Sola performed on the beach.

Scott Pasfield

“Bombay Boom!” by Kenny Scharf.

Scott Pasfield

“Atlantis Inn” by Marco Walker and Tomek Sadurski.

Marco Walker

Artists have been drawn to the ethereal colors of the desert.

Scott Pasfield

“da Vinci fish” by Sean Guerrero, Royce Carlson, Nita Carlson, John Murphy, Jay Cobe, and Greg Hillg.

Daniel Gerstenhaber

Drinks were served from the Bombay Beach Beach Club.

Scott London

An outdoor living room.

Scott Pasfield

“Paradise, Abandoned” by Olivia Steele.

Olivier Chatard

Colorful performers on the beach.

Scott Pasfield

Golden hour on the Salton Sea.

Scott Pasfield

Angels on the beach.

Scott Passfield

Pier pilings offered a stage.

Scott London

A performance at the Bombay Beach Opera House, designed by artist James Ostrer.

Scott Pasfield

“The Water Molicube” by Scott Fitzel.

Scott Fitzel

The festival has been a welcome distraction for permanent residents of Bombay Beach.

Adam Anderson

Fashions were flamboyant at the Bombay Beach Beach Club.

Scott Passfield

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