Associated Press

An illegal roadside ad disguised as art may force the Texas DOT to tear down the famous Prada Marfa as well.

The Prada Marfa, a public art installation disguised as a Prada store, has existed peacefully in the sparsely populated town of Valentine, Texas, since 2005. But now, it's future is at risk.

The Prada Marfa and its surroundings. View Larger Map

The trouble started this summer, after Playboy installed a 1972 Dodge Charger on top of a box and a 40-foot neon version of its iconic bunny logo along the same roadway.

In July, the Texas Department of Transportation deemed it "illegal outdoor advertising" and ordered it gone. Though the Prada Marfa has no financial connection to the luxury retailer, the TxDOT's ruling means the Prada logo itself is considered an "advertisement" by the state's DOT. As a result, the fake store may face a similar fate. 
The Playboy Marfa. Image courtesy Flickr user mattybravo

The 1965 Highway Beautification Act mandates that all display signage must have a permit. Neither of the installations do. "We know it's illegal. They don't have licenses, they don't have permits," TxDOT spokesman Veronica Beyer told the Associated Press.

The Playboy must be removed within 60 days; Prada Marfa's fate is still up in the air. But there's a clear, obvious difference between the two. Prada Marfa, designed by Scandinavian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset is a legitimate art installation. It has no commercial relationship with the company it portrays; instead it critiques it. Playboy Marfa on the other hand, works a sales pitch, positioning the publication as something cool enough for the kind of people who check out wry, absurdist art installations in the middle of the desert.

The Playboy piece has yet to be taken down, leading some to think the company was able to convince TxDOT of the piece's artistic merit. But according to the Texas Monthly, TxDOT emailed a new Order of Removal to Playboy, saying it must come down in 45 days. If the bunny and the Charger aren't gone by then, TxDOT will refer the case to the Attorney General's office.

Boyd Elder, a local artist and Prada Marfa site representative told the AP that lawyers are currently in discussions with TxDOT in hopes of reaching a solution for both installations. And if that doesn't work, Elder sees a silver lining in Prada Marfa's potentially short life. "Maybe this [transport department decision] is the ultimate reaction to the art itself," he said.

“If they want to remove it because of bureaucracy, we tear it down," Elmgreen told the New York Times earlier this month. "And then we can say that one of the quite well-known permanent artworks — that hasn't cost taxpayers anything and that has been elected one of the most-worth-seeing roadside attractions in the States — is no longer."

The stucco and adobe Prada Marfa store, near Valentine, Texas is shown Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Inside Prada Marfa, an art installation in Valentine, Texas. Jan. 10, 2006 (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
A sign on site that explains the public art piece. Image courtesy Flickr user Alejandro De La Cruz
Graffiti on the back side of Prada Marfa. Image courtesy Flickr user PandaBrand
Some of the business cards left by visitors along the Prada Marfa side wall. Image courtesy Flickr user Andrew Lim

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  2. Amazon HQ2

    Without Amazon HQ2, What Happens to Housing in Queens?

    The arrival of the tech company’s new headquarters was set to shake up the borough’s real estate market, driving up rents and spurring displacement. Now what?

  3. A photo of a visitor posing for a photo with Elvis in downtown Nashville

    Cities: Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap

    From Instagram stunts to Edison bulbs, why do so many cities’ marketing plans try to convince people that they’re exactly like somewhere else?

  4. A photo of a new car dealership

    Subprime Auto Loans Are Turning Car Ownership Into a Trap

    A record 7 million Americans are three months late on their car payments, revealing what could be cracks in the U.S. economy.

  5. Design

    There’s a Tile Theft Epidemic in Lisbon

    With a single azulejo fetching hundreds of euros at the city’s more reputable antique stores, these tiles, sitting there out in the open, are easy pickings.