If you were so deeply moved by the roadside art installation dubbed Playboy Marfa that you planned a pilgrimage to far West Texas in order to see it, then I have bad news for you today: Playboy Marfa is no more.
At least, it's no more in the sense that it is no longer in Marfa. The art piece, which consisted of a 1972 Dodge Charger on a Donald Judd-esque concrete block next to a neon sign featuring the iconic Playboy logo, has been taken down and is headed to a modern art museum in Dallas instead.
If you're a newcomer to the saga of Playboy Marfa, let me fill you in on the backstory. Playboy commissioned artist Richard Phillips to build the statue out on Highway 90 near Marfa, a tiny West Texas town adopted by New York artists in the 1970s that remains one of the most interesting places in the Lone Star State. Playboy's goal in doing so was to try and reinvigorate their brand, which has been flagging in recent years due to both the decline of print media and the plethora of widely available free Internet porn.
Needless to say, some of the residents weren't too happy about the installation, which some of them deemed to be tacky and crass. A complaint led the Texas Department of Transportation deemed Playboy Marfa an illegal outdoor advertisement and said it had to go. This decision has also put the famous Prada Marfa installation at risk as well, though its fate remains uncertain. It also led to a contentious debate well beyond Texas on the nature of art vs. advertisement.
At any rate, Playboy Marfa — which I used as a backdrop when I reviewed a 2013 Dodge Charger R/T Daytona — was taken down sometime in November. It will reemerge next year at a Phillips’ survey at the Dallas Contemporary museum.
It turns out at least some people in Dallas aren't nuts about this either. Here's what writer Peter Simek said in D Magazine:
When I first heard the news my knee jerk reaction was to see this as merely an opportunistic swipe at a sensational bit of art controversy. The Dallas Contemporary, after all, has shown an appetite for a semi-sincere embracing Dallas’ superficiality that panders to and satirizes this city’s character in the same breath. There is something frivolous and frustrating about Phillips’ piece. If you take a step back from the dry intellectual pat-a-cakes over the nature of the work of art, you see it as merely a trite, depressingly idiotic piece of consumer kitsch, a muscle car on a tilted pedestal facing a neon bunny. At best the piece is itself an example of art-parody, a self-effacing admittance of art’s own branded triviality, pandering consumer cool with a nihilistic swagger. It’s a conversation piece, but a dreadful and depressing work of art. And its brazen tastelessness has put a superior work of art, Prada Marfa, in jeopardy.
Emphasis mine, although after having seen Playboy Marfa in person, I fully agree with Simek's sentiment here. With all due respect to Phillips, I think it just looks cheesy and cheap in person, like it was clearly done on a budget. And I'd hate to think that it could lead to the dismantling of Prada Marfa, easily one of the best roadside attractions in America and one that the town's residents have rallied behind.
Meanwhile, Phillips has a different Playboy-themed Dodge Charger making its debut at a car art show in Miami that sounds like it may be worth checking out if you're in the area.
The short life of Playboy Marfa has been a strange one with many unexpected twists and turns. I'd hate to see it do more damage than good in the end.
Photo credit Patrick George