How Playboy Pissed Off An Artsy West Texas Town

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It turns out that residents of West Texas aren't exactly warming up to Playboy's "art installation" just outside of the small town of Marfa, which features a 1972 Dodge Charger on a hollowed-out concrete block next to the famed bunny logo. Here's why.

You'll recall that Playboy's marketing team commissioned the piece earlier this year as part of their attempts to "reviv(e) the brand for a younger generation" who probably don't have much use for the magazine thanks to the wide array of free Internet porn readily available to them.


The attraction is just outside Marfa on Highway 90, about 25 minutes away from the more famous Prada Marfa piece which no doubt inspired it to some degree. It fits in with quirky Marfa, a tiny town once adopted by New York artists that is now full of galleries, installations, and great restaurants, as well as the local West Texas natives who have lived there for generations.

But many residents of Marfa, Alpine and the surrounding towns aren't pleased about the piece, in particular because they consider it an advertisement akin to a billboard, for which Playboy did not acquire a license to display. From Arizona's 11 News:

Marfa, nestled in cattle country, has become a magnet for contemporary art, but many residents are hopping mad about the roadside bunny and black spray painted Chevy [sic] near the entrance to the town.

“I think it’s kind of tacky and showy,” said Berry Stein, 27, a summer intern at the Ballroom Marfa gallery. “It represents what Playboy is in some people’s opinion,” said Stein.

The bunny in a bow tie is the talk of the town. One local artist printed up bumper stickers that say “kill the rabbit” and show the Playboy bunny in the crosshairs of a rifle scope.

There’s a backlash from many in the region who see the Playboy display as an unauthorized billboard.

“It makes blatant use of an advertising logo,” said Lonn Taylor, a historian who lives in nearby Fort Davis.


A resident's complaint to the Texas Department of Transportation, or TXDOT if you're a local, caused the agency to order the piece taken down. In early July Playboy was given 45 days to remove it on the grounds that they do not have a license to display an outdoor advertisement, according to an Associated Press report in the Dallas Morning News.


As Playboy Marfa was still standing in all its Mopar-tastic glory when I was there this weekend, obviously, that didn't happen. Big Bend Now reports that Playboy — who have retained Texan superlawyer Dick DeGuerin on their behald — are working on an agreement with TXDOT that will let it stand.

A few residents and visitors I spoke with at a local watering hole called Padre's offered mixed opinions about Playboy Marfa.


Chip Love, a local banker who just so happens to have played the guy who got murdered by Javier Bardem's cattle bolt in No Country For Old Men, told me he prefers to stay out of the debate, but said many local residents are rankled because the concrete block blatantly apes artist Donald Judd's famous installations just outside the town.

"The art crowd... they think that's uncool," Love said. "It touches on a lot of folks' buttons out here." Some of the more traditional residents also aren't happy with something that essentially advertises pornography.


But Bob Miller, who lives in Big Spring and has a house in Marfa, disagreed with that notion.

"There's nothing vulgar about it," Miller told me. "It's just a logo, and it has conversational appeal."


He added: "What's the difference between that and the Prada Store down there?"

And he has a good point. I would argue that the difference is that Prada Marfa wasn't commissioned by the famous Italian clothier (though it was supported by them in several ways), but was rather done by two artists on their own accord who wanted to make a pop art statement. But at the end of the day, does such a distinction really matter? Maybe it doesn't.


It could also be argued that it's a corporation working to co-opt Marfa's art scene, a symbol of how the town is on the verge of blowing up and going mainstream as more and more people find out about and flock to it.


Frankly, my biggest problem with Playboy Marfa is that it looks cheesy. It's not the well-executed standout against the desert landscape that the Prada store is. While the Charger is pretty cool, the piece as a whole has this very artificial, advertisement-like feel to it. I wasn't too impressed with it when I saw it, and yes, it is a blatant Judd ripoff.

But for now, Playboy Marfa stands, waiting to greet visitors passing through the high Texan desert with a message of... whatever it's trying to say. Buy more Playboys, probably.


What do you think of the installation? Should it be allowed to stay?

Photos credit Patrick George