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Artists release statement, community reacts to questionable future of Prada Marfa
By: Genevieve Curtis
MARFA, Texas --Italian handbags and shoes line a store front window along a U.S. highway in the middle of a west Texas desert, but the store has never made a sale.
Of course, it's not a store at all.
After eight years, the Prada Marfa sculpture in Valentine, Texas, has come under the scrutiny of the Texas Department of Transportation.
The iconic art sculpture serves as a pop-up art installation and is entirely sealed off to the public, but a recent controversy involving the TxDOT and a famous bunny may close the shop that never even opened.
A spokesperson for TxDOT told the Associated Press the artwork is an illegal roadside advertisement.
This only happened after Playboy erected its neon bunny logo a few miles down the highway from the Italian fashion house sculpture.
State officials gave Playboy until October to take down the 40-foot structure, which some in Marfa tells KFOX14 didn't sit well with some locals.
"There been a lot of controversy about that because it's a Playboy bunny. I think if it were anything else they wouldn't have a problem with it. All the young people in town love it, it looks really cool when it's lit up," said lifelong Marfa resident, Andrea Estrada.
TxDOT officials said neither Prada Marfa nor the famous bunny have permits or license to "advertise" on the side of a U.S. highway.
Now questions remain about what will happen to Prada Marfa.
"Oh I don't know. Prada's been there for so long. Do you think TxDOT would go after that?" asked Marfa resident Brenda Garcia.
It's hard to say what will happen to the famous artwork. If those high heels could talk, they'd tell of the thousands of photos snapped in front and famous visitors, like Beyonc and everyday visitors like Kelly Robinson from Austin.
"It's just like what I imagined," said Robinson as she looked upon the small building.
While state officials may try to paint Prada Marfa with the same brush as the Playboy image, the local art commissioners behind the project say it's black and white because Prada Marfa simply isn't an advertisement at all.
"It's eight years down the road to find out that its being misinterpreted as an advertisement and to have any threat of being taken down is you know, upsetting," said Melissa McDonnell Lujan, deputy director of Ballroom Marfa.
Ballroom Marfa is one of the commissioners behind the project said the state has yet to contact them about the possible issue.
"Prada didn't pay for any of the sculpture. It's completely funded through the non-profits," said Lujan.
"We don't want to see Prada Marfa taken down. We want it to stay. It's not corporately funded. It's not to promote Prada Marfa," said Lujan.
She also points out the sculpture sits on private property, which was donated, not purchased. The project was commissioned by two nonprofit groups, Ballroom Marfa and the Art Production Fund unlike the bunny statue which was commissioned by Playboy itself.
More than anything, Prada Marfa is about the juxtaposition between a luxury brand and the barren desert.
"There's a lot of humor to it. It's absolutely absurd. And it's a comment on this kind of luxury culture," said Erin Kimmel associate curator for Ballroom Marfa.
The irony and pop-art statement gained infamy in the last eight years both in the art world and beyond.
"There's always been an association with the Prada store. People always seem to mention it, whether you are in New York or another place where art is on people's minds," said Theo Morrison of Queens, N.Y., visiting Marfa for the weekend.
Dozens of people stop each day just to snap a picture of Prada Marfa. Robinson, in town for a wedding said several people told her Prada Marfa was a 'must stop.'
"I think they should keep it I think it's very unique. That's why we wanted to see it," said Robinson.
Garcia said she feels it's wrong of TxDOT to come in eight years after the sculpture opened.
"They should have taken action when it was being built," said Garcia.
The artists who created Prada Marfa, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, released a statement about the speculation the state may step in.
"It comes as a big surprise for us that the Texas Department of Transportation now after eight years may declare this well-known artwork to be illegal and we think it would be a shame for the local community if it disappeared after being there for so long since the work clearly is one of the strong points for the cultural tourism, which is such an important financial factor in this region. However, we are very happy to experience the fantastic support from both art professionals internationally, locals and others, who have even created a Facebook page named 'Save Prada Marfa' that after just a short while has received almost 4000 likes and daily receives plenty of new posts, stories and images from people who once visited this site," said Elmgreen and Dragset.
The intriguing sculpture helped put the artistic community of Marfa on the Map and locals say it's good for business.
"It brings money into the town so I'm down for that. It brings tourists so it's pretty cool," said Estrada.
Elmgreen and Dragset intended for Prada Marfa to stand alone in the West Texas desert forever without any maintenance and slowly return to the earth. Many people said they hope that's exactly what happens.
"It's just something someone did that's really interesting and it draws people. It kind of makes you scratch your head and look at the world a different way I think that should be encouraged not discouraged," said Morrison.
"I would be disappointed. I would be disappointed if they were both taken out (Prada Marfa and Playboy). Prada doesn't hurt anybody. It's got pretty shoes in there and real nice purses. I would be really disappointed if they took them both out," said Garcia.
The shoes and purses are real Prada items from the fall/winter 2005 collection. Miucci Prada picked out and provided the bags as a donation to the art project and allowed the artists to use the Prada trademark. However the artists conceived the idea independently of Prada, the good are donated and Prada did not finance the project.
Read The Entire statements from the Artists:
Prada Marfa is an artwork initiated by ourselves and realized in a collaboration with the not-for-profit cultural organizations Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa in 2005. It was not a work commissioned by the fashion brand Prada nor had the fashion brand any involvement in the creation of this work. They kindly gave us the permission to use their logo after we asked them, due to the founder Muccia Prada's personal interest in contemporary art, and she donated shoes and bags, which have never been renewed but stay the same as a historic display inside the sculpture. The right definition of advertisement must be based on criteria more accurate than just including any sign which contains a logo. It is advertisement only when a company either commissions someone to make such a sign, pays for its execution or makes a sign themselves in order to promote the company's products. And this is not the case here since Prada Marfa never had any commercial link to the fashion brand Prada, unlike the Playboy bunny which went up this summer initiated by Playboy itself.
Prada Marfa is firmly positioned within a contemporary understanding of site specific art, but also draws strongly on pop art and land art two art forms which were conceived and thrived especially in the USA from the 1960s and onwards. Many artists, from Andy Warhol with his famous Campbell soup cans to Andreas Gursky with his grand photographic documentation of retail spaces have appropriated and dealt with the visual language of commercial brands. In an increasingly commercialized world, we see the independent artistic treatment of all visual signs and signifiers as crucial to a better and wider understanding of our day-to-day surroundings, including the influence of corporations.
It comes as a big surprise for us that the Texas Department of Transportation now after eight years may declare this well-known artwork to be illegal and we think it would be a shame for the local community if it disappeared after being there for so long since the work clearly is one of the strong points for the cultural tourism, which is such an important financial factor in this region. However, we are very happy to experience the fantastic support from both art professionals internationally, locals and others, who have even created a Facebook page named "Save Prada Marfa" that after just a short while has received almost 4000 likes and daily receives plenty of new posts, stories and images from people who once visited this site.
Elmgreen & Dragset