About 30 minutes outside of the Marfa, Texas (population 1,900) is Prada Marfa - a Prada store, designed by Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. The sculpture was constructed in 2005 and designed to resemble a Prada store, right down to the Fall/Winter 2005 collection shoes and handbags, selected and provided by Miuccia Prada. (Prada allowed Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Prada trademarks for this work but the Italian design house is otherwise not involved with the $80,000+ project and did not fund it). Over the past ten years, the store – located on a rural highway – has never been opened and will reportedly never be repaired, allowing it to slowly degrade back into the natural landscape - the point of the installation.
Speaking of the creation of Prada Marfa, which has become something of a “must visit” spot in Texas, Michael Elmgreen recently said he and his partner did not anticipate that it would be the subject of such fan fury: “No one there for the opening … There were just some ranchers that were there and five friends from New York!” Since, it has welcomed guests that range from Beyoncé and the guys of Chromeo to the editors of Vogue and a number of unnamed brands who wanted to use it as a background for ad campaigns (something the artists do not permit).
As for why Elmgreen and Dragset decided to set up shop in the middle of the desert in Texas, Elmgreen said: “It was something we came up with because we thought, how would these shops for luxury goods actually look if they were taken out of their normal context, being in Mayfair, or Paris, or Milano. How would they look if you totally isolate them – almost like a U.F.O. dumped down in the middle of nowhere?”
As Prada Marfa turns ten, it is not without much a-do, especially since its existence has been subject to termination in the past decade. You may recall that in September 2013, the faux store/permanent installation was classified by the Texas Department of Transportation as an “illegal outdoor advertising sign." Turns out, the Prada logo on the "store" was held to be in violation of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which prohibits advertising on unlicensed land bordering federal highway U.S. 90 and requires an advertisers to have a permit. (The artists never obtained a permit because they "reject the idea that their installation is an advertisement," claiming: “There’s a difference between being commissioned by a company to do something for them and using their logo, and using their logo on your own.").
The 2013 Prada Marfa dispute joined the art-versus-advertising debate that had been underway in Marfa since that June, when Playboy Enterprises planted its own installation on the same highway, just a mile northwest of town. The Playboy piece consisted of a 1972 Dodge Charger on top of a box in front of a forty-foot neon Playboy bunny sign, and was designed by the artist Richard Phillips for Playboy (and was paid for by Playboy). The Texas Department of Transportation subsequently ordered Playboy to remove its sign, giving the Beverly Hill-based global media and lifestyle company a month to disassemble it.
Elmgreen and Dragset were dealt a more favorable hand. After nearly a year of deliberations between Ballroom Marfa, the Texas-based non-profit art organization that oversees Prada Marfa, and the Texas Department of Transportation, Ballroom Marfa obtained a lease for the privately-owned roadside land, allowing the site to be classified as a museum and thus, fall into a loophole in Texas state law. Veronica Beyer, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation confirmed the news in September 2014, saying: “The site is now an art museum site and the building is their single art exhibit." Moreover, Beyer stated that any signage on the site may now be considered “on-premise” and doesn’t require a permit under state law.
While the faux store was unveiled with the goal of never being repaired, it has had some minor maintenance work done over the years. For instance, just days after the “store” was unveiled, it was broken it and robbed of the shoes (only right foot shoes had been displayed) and bags. Dragset says this was a relatively easy fix: “Luckily [Marfa Ballroom] had the right foot shoes to replace the products and Mrs. Prada sent more bags.”
Then in March 2014, artist Joe Magnano (aka 927 1977) vandalized the structure, covering it with spray paint and defacing it with TOMS Shoes logo-printed imagery, in protest of the footwear brand’s corporate structure and its favoring of big business. Magnano was indicted and pled guilty on two felony criminal mischief counts for allegedly damaging and destroying parts of what the artists refer to as "a pop architectural land art project.” The artist was ordered to pay $10,700, which was used to restore the installation to its pre-TOMS state. Elmgreen said this was also an easy fix: “It was quite easily renovated, and the local community really wanted it to be renovated.”
Speaking recently of the Prada Marfa project, Michael Elmgreen told Dazed Digital:
[Prada] didn’t initiate the work at all, we did a project in Chelsea in the gallery district of New York before where we used the Prada logo. We covered the windows of a private commercial gallery there saying ‘Opening soon: Prada’, so everyone thought that the gallery was closed. It was a cool project to do but the gallery didn’t like it so much because it didn’t sell anything for the whole duration of the exhibition! We didn’t ask permission at that time, we thought Prada is interested in art, they’re not going to sue us – and they didn’t sue us. But when we were doing the Prada Marfa we knew that it would be up for quite a while, we thought we’d better check that we were allowed to use their logo.
We gave them a call and said we’re doing this shop, would you provide the shoes and the bags. And they were very nice, Miuccia herself selected things that were really cleverly chosen in the sandy colours because it’s in the middle of the Texan desert, where everything has these dusty, earthy colour tones. So the bags and the shoes from that AW05 collection had pieces that would correspond to that colour scheme. She was very generous, she wrote us a letter that said you can use the logo freely and we’re not going to run after you and sue you.