The uncertain future of Prada Marfa, an art installation erected eight years ago outside the tiny West Texas town, is drawing the attention of the Texas Legislature.
The Texas Department of Transportation said last month that it was weighing the legality of the installation, which is made to look exactly like a Prada store, though the doors are always locked. TxDOT is considering whether the installation’s sign constitutes an illegal advertisement after making a similar determination of Playboy Marfa, an installation commissioned by the magazine earlier this year.
“As a member of the House Committee on Culture, Recreation and Tourism, I believe the elimination of Prada Marfa would be detrimental to the City of Marfa, Presidio County and the whole Big Bend region by removing a talked about art piece and tourist attraction," state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, wrote in a letter sent this week to TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson. Nevarez’s district includes Presidio County, where Prada Marfa is located.
While Prada Marfa was designed by artists unaffiliated with the fashion company, Playboy actually commissioned its more recently installed Marfa structure, which includes a 40-foot Playboy bunny sign. TxDOT decided that the Playboy installation was illegal advertising because the company had not applied for a permit to erect a sign with the Playboy logo along a federal highway.
Prada Marfa technically sits on private land, but its awning stretches over the public right of way, according to Texas Monthly.
“We’re still looking into this matter about Prada Marfa, but according to law, Prada Marfa is considered outside advertising, and a state outdoor advertising license and permit are required, neither of which Prada Marfa has,” TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said.
Beyer said TxDOT has no timeline for addressing the issue with the famous art installation.
“We’re reviewing this and researching options available to the building owners,” Beyer said. “We really appreciate artwork and appreciate it across our state, but we have to treat every sign owner the same regarding the law.”
Prada Marfa artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have argued that their installation should be treated differently from one that was paid for by the company that intended to draw publicity from it.
“The right definition of advertisement must be based on criteria more accurate than just including any sign which contains a logo,” the pair wrote last week on their blog.
In his letter to Wilson, Nevarez suggested the age of the installation should also be considered.
“I would disagree that an art installation that has been present for the last eight years is suddenly considered illegal when looked at relative to the Playboy Enterprises installation,” Nevarez wrote.