What is it?
Prada Marfa is a permanent installation work of two Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset. The freestanding building resembles a Prada storefront and was launched on October 1, 2005, as a “pop architectural land art project”.
Can you go inside Prada Marfa?
From a distance, the artwork appears to be a large minimalist sculpture. As one gets closer, the building resembles a Prada boutique where a display of Fall 2005 high-heel Prada shoes and bags can be seen through the storefront windows. However, the sculpture will never function as a place of commerce. The door cannot be opened.
The intial plan
Initially, the installation was supposed to be a building that would be abandoned and left to gradually decompose into the surroundings. However, this plan was scrapped after someone spray-painted its exterior and stole items from inside, just the night the building was erected.
Also, all parties realized that if the structure were allowed to fully decay, it would become both hazard and an eyesore, according to Ballroom Marfa’s website1.
Originally the artists wanted to install the building somewhere else and even floated the idea of “Prada Nevada”, but the state wasn’t so enthusiastic.
The structure was finally installed in Texas after the New York-based Art Production Fund (APF) linked Elmgreen and Dragset with the Texas-based Ballroom Marfa, a center for culture and contemporary art. The project was completed with the help of American architects Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael and cost $120,000.
Is Prada Marfa a real store?
Prada Marfa is designed to look like a Prada store and is made of adobe bricks, plaster, paint, glass pane, aluminum frame, MDF, and carpet. Its door is not functional, while its front features two large windows displaying real Prada products, including handbags and shoes.
These products were chosen and provided by Muccia Prada from the fall/winter 2005 collection. The brand also allowed the two artists to use its trademark for the project.
At first glance, the structure looks exactly like a real Prada storefront, with the only difference being that the installation had no working door.
Elmgreen said in the New York Times2 in 2013:
It was meant as a critique of the luxury goods industry, to put a shop in the middle of the desert.
In another interview with Texas Monthly3, Elmgreen said:
Prada was sympathetic to the idea of being criticized.
This was not the first time the two artists worked with Prada. In 2001, they collaborated with the brand to create a work for Tanya Bonakdar in New York, which carried a deceitful message “Opening soon –PRADA4“.
The work is located on the outskirts of Valentine, a town in Jeff Davis County in Texas, near Marfa on desolate ranching land with no other visible trace of civilization.
US-90, Valentine, TX 79854, USA
Conflict with the law
Interestingly, the installation flew under the radar of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for almost a decade until a 40-foot tall neon bunny was erected by Playboy along the same road.
TxDOT considered the Prada sign on the installation to be a form of advertisement and permits are required for such displays to be erected along the highways in the United States. Therefore, the structure violated the permitted stipulations for ads, and so, TxDOT issued the demand to remove it. Finally, nothing happened.
Responding to those claims, Elmgreen said5:
There’s no company behind the artwork. I was not commissioned by Prada. They never ever asked me to do an advertisement for them.
However, in 2014, TxDOT officials proclaimed6 that the installation would be reclassified as a museum, with its only exhibition being Prada Marfa. Finally, the neon bunny was removed.
The same night the project was installed, some broke into the building and stole its contents, including 14 right footed shoes and six handbags, and spray painted the words “Dumb” and “Dum Dum” on the sidewalls of the structure.
As mentioned earlier, the idea was to let the building crumble gradually. Still, after this act of vandalism, the damage was repaired, its contents replaced, and a hidden security system installed that alerts the police if someone tries to break into the building.
Another vandalism incident occurred in March 2014, when someone painted the entire structure light blue, draped fake logos for TOMS shoes from the blinds, and posted a political slogan on the door.
Ballroom Marfa released a public statement decrying the event, vowing to restore the building. It turned out, 32-year old Texas artist Joe Magnano was behind the second vandalism act. He was arrested7 and pleaded guilty to two counts of a criminal offense. Magnano agreed to pay $10,700 to Ballroom Marfa in restitution, along with a fine totaling $1,000.
15 years later
The installation seemingly defied the artists’ expectations, who thought it would exist more as documentation and a rumor, and at some point just disappear.
But instead, Prada Marfa mutated into something of a cultural sensation, shown in pop star Beyoncé’s Instagram feed and on the long-running and beloved animation series, The Simpsons. It also drew numerous other social media influencers over the years.
Prada Marfa weathered the elements, recurrent vandalism, and a lawsuit. The two artists returned to the site more than a decade later to find the structure they thought would disappear in oblivion in the hand of elements and other factors had assumed a life of its own.
Elmgreen said on his visit during an interview with the Guardian8:
It became a symbol beyond our expectations, or individual ideas, in good ways and bad.
Dragset, on the other hand, believes that the piece “had become a lens to view the passage of time, ‘changes in how we use technology to perceive a site or an experience”.