Texan Prada 'shop' is art but it's also illegal

Installation outside tiny Texas town that draws tourists and vandals a dilemma for officials

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 4:24am


The Prada Marfa art installation has stood alone in the West Texas plains for eight years, its high-end Italian fashion goods available to no one.

Now, state officials say the shack-sized building along a rural highway near the tiny town of Marfa - population 2,000 - is an illegal roadside advertisement, and they're considering what to do about a structure that's a must-see for passing tourists and a must-hit for vandals.

Artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset designed the piece to resemble a Prada storefront and slowly disintegrate. It went up in 2005 on private land in Valentine, Texas.

Since it opened, vandals have hit the "store" numerous times, including a break-in where thieves discovered the bags - which sell for hundreds of dollars - had the bottoms removed and only the right shoe of each pair was on display.

The window panes were eventually replaced with bullet-resistant polycarbonate.

But it wasn't in the sights of the Texas Department of Transportation until the Playboy corporation this summer installed a 12.2-metre neon bunny along the same highway.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said both the Prada Marfa and the Playboy bunny were considered signs under Texas law, meaning it was something intended to advertise, including logos. The bunny sculpture is the magazine's iconic logo, while the fake store has the Prada logo on its awnings. Under US law, a permit is needed to display signs along a highway.

"We know it's illegal. They don't have licences, they don't have permits," Beyer said. And both displays sit on land that does not qualify for obtaining permits.

Boyd Elder, a local artist and Prada Marfa site representative, disagrees.

"It's not an advertisement, it's not a store; no one is selling anything there. It's an art installation," he said.

The state ordered the bunny to be removed by late October, though it gave the company a 60-day extension to allow them to find a solution.

The Texas Department of Transportation hasn't yet determined whether to take similar action against the Prada Marfa.

Elmgreen and Dragset didn't immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

The artists "want people's reaction to their art", Elder said. "Maybe this is the ultimate reaction to the art itself."

But Beyer offered an olive branch, saying: "We want to find a solution to this. We know people want to see art in this great state, but it has to be legal."