(arts) prada

In the small West Texas town of Marfa an empty fashion store stands idle on the outskirts of U.S. Route 90. From afar it looks like a dilapidated building, but upon closer inspection its sleek, bold letters spell one word any fashion lover would automatically recognize — Prada.

“Prada, Marfa,” created by European artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, is a permanent sculpture northwest of Valentine, Texas. Designed to look just like an actual store, the sculpture has Prada shoes and handbags provided by Miuccia Prada herself. However, there is no public access to the sculpture and nothing inside is for sale.

“Prada, Marfa” is a non-profit project drawing strongly on land art and pop art a la Andy Warhol and his Campbell’s Soup cans. The purpose of the installation is to gain understanding of the world through a commercialized point of view. A Prada store in the middle of nowhere shows how consumerism and obsession with labels has spread to the most unexpected places.

Since 2005, the sculpture has brought visitors from all over the world and has become a cultural staple to the city of Marfa. The installation is owned by Ballroom Marfa and the Art Production Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to producing ambitious public art projects. The fund provides artists with the assistance to create difficult projects.

Recently, the Texas Department of Public Safety has deemed the sculpture an “illegal form of advertisement” and is in talks of dismantling it.

“Playboy, Marfa,” another installation outside of Marfa, is the cause of the current dispute. Artist Richard Phillips was commissioned by Playboy to create a 40-foot neon sign of the Playboy logo and a model Dodge Charger. Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun had a photo shoot at the site as well as a streamed video with the tagline, “A new look for an American icon.”

Following a large amount of controversy and a complaint from local residents, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) ordered Playboy to remove the sign because the owner does not have a permit for outdoor advertising. TxDOT is currently having discussions with Playboy Enterprises to resolve the issue, and the sign remains on the plot.

TxDOT representative Veronica Beyer commented in the Oct. 16 issue of The Wall Street Journal that “Currently ‘Prada, Marfa,’ and the site it occupies do not comply with federal and state laws regarding un-zoned areas in order to receive a permit. We are still looking into this. We must treat each sign owner the same.”

TxDOT could not be reached for comment.

The “Prada, Marfa” artists Elmgreen and Dragset commented on the Ballroom Marfa website: “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.”

The Belgian artists also stated, “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; the work clearly is one of the strong points for the cultural tourism, which is such an important financial factor in this region.”

Although the dispute has reached national attention, residents of Marfa are indifferent towards the installation. Rose Anderson-Lewis, a store owner and resident, wrote in an e-mail, “Not much of our tourism is a result of ‘Prada, Marfa’ or ‘Playboy, Marfa.’ In fact, maybe none. ‘Prada’ is certainly a point of interest but not usually the reason people come here.”

However, Minerva Lopez, a representative from the Marfa Visitor Center, says “It’s not hurting anyone. Many of us want it here and tourists always want to see Prada, Marfa. It’s an icon.”

TxDOT has not directly contacted Ballroom Marfa and Art Production Fund about Prada, Marfa.The decision to remove it has still not been made.

To find out more information, or how to help save “Prada, Marfa,” visit ballroommarfa.org.

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