Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
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 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."