Sunday 22 September 2013

Department of Transport strikes again

After taking aim at Texan art installation "Playboy Marfa", the Department of Transportation in Texas has struck again - this time at "Prada Marfa" (pictured below).

Playboy Marfa was an installation by Richard Phillips, as commissioned by Playboy Enterprises. The Texan authorities decided to remove it on the grounds that it was not art but advertising, since it comprised an enormous Playboy bunny image (see report here) and no outdoor advertising permit had been granted for the work.

Now Prada Marfa, another art work placed on a highway outside the Texan town of Marfa, is up for removal for the same reason. Unlike the relatively new Playboy installation, Prada Marfa has been in situ since 2005. The installation is a perfect copy of a small Prada shop situated in the middle of bleak desert landscape, complete with Prada products in the window and, of course, the Prada logo featuring prominently. It was designed by Scandinavian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragse with Miuccia Prada's permission, but was not commissioned by her.

The installation is much beloved and it's easy to see why; the stark, clean Prada aesthetic complementing, yet completely subverting, the stark, clean beauty of the empty desert landscape it sits within. It is a strange and thought provoking sight drawing sightseers in their thousands. Ironically however it also breaches the 1965 Highway Beautification Act on the basis that it is "an illegal outdoor advertising sign".

Undoubtedly it does serve the purpose of advertising Prada, even if this is simply an unintended side effect common to pop culture art works. But on a practical level the decision to remove the artwork, if carried out, will deprive Texas of an art work that "hasn’t cost taxpayers anything and that has been elected one of the most-worth-seeing roadside attractions in the States", as co-designer Elmgreen put it.

Whether Prada Marfa goes the way of Playboy Marfa remains to be seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although there is a commercial aspect to these pieces it seems to me their overriding nature (especially the Prada piece) is artistic. I think they constitute protected expression under the First Amendment. Will the artist make any legal challenges against this action by the State of Texas?