Playboy Marfa, the attraction featuring a 1972 Dodge Charger planted on a cinder block next to the Playboy logo outside the middle-of-nowhere West Texas town of Marfa, has caused plenty of trouble since it went up. The state ordered it to be taken down. Now, it may take a more famous roadside icon with it.
The backstory, in case you haven't been following so far, goes like this. Playboy installed the attraction outside of Marfa, a tiny, artsy town near the Mexican border, in hopes of somehow reinvigorating their flagging brand. It kind of pissed everyone off. Then the Texas Department of Transportation decided that it was an advertisement, not art, and one that went up without a permit to boot. They demanded it get taken down.
But the attention on Playboy Marfa has also dragged Prada Marfa into the fight. That would be the freestanding Prada store about 30 miles down the road, a well-built, visually jarring roadside attraction and art exhibit that has since become something of a Texas icon. No, you can't go inside it, but it's full of Prada purses and shoes, and it looks pretty amazing.
Thanks to the Playboy drama, Prada Marfa has also been declared illegal advertising, according to Texas Monthly:
Nearly eight years after opening, Prada Marfa has been classified by the Texas Department of Transportation as an “illegal outdoor advertising sign” because it displays the Prada logo on land where that is prohibited. This could lead to forced removal of the installation, although the department has not yet decided what action it will take.
[...] From the state’s perspective, the logo is defined by state and federal law as a sign. And because the “sign” sits on unlicensed land bordering federal highway U.S. 90 and lacks a permit, it violates the 1965 Highway Beautification Act signed by president Lyndon B. Johnson and championed by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.
In their defense, the state is being fair here because many have asked why Playboy's attraction had to go but the Prada installation did not. Its defenders claim it is art, meant to be a critique of the luxury goods industry, but the state doesn't see it that way. The installation was not commissioned by Prada directly, like Playboy was, but it was done with their blessing and support.
For me at least, having seen both of these in person, the problem here is less of a logical one and more of an emotional one. Prada Marfa looks great. It is extremely well-crafted and well-executed, and it's a clever and fun roadside attraction that will catch an unaware motorist off guard as they pass by it in the desert.
Playboy Marfa, on the other hand, is stupid. It looks cheap and cheesy and reeks of crass consumerism. I'm not even sure what they're trying to say exactly with the Dodge on top. It's just kind of dumb.
TXDOT hasn't yet decided what course it will take with Prada Marfa, but as an ex-Texan (I guess you're not really ever not Texan, right?) I do hope it finds a way to stay up.
Playboy Marfa can stay or go. I call dibs on the Charger if they decide to take it down, but otherwise it's no great loss.
Photos credit Patrick George