San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

SLIDESHOW: [A] Prada Marfa, a “pop architectural land art project” in rural Jeff Davis County, was unveiled in October 2005 by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. PHOTO by CASEY McCALLISTER. [B] Shoes, handbags and other “merchandise” from the high-end Italian fashion house sits untouched on the shelves of Prada Murphy in 2006. PHOTO by MARIE ELY.

by AMAN BATHEJA

NEAR VALENTINE — Prada Marfa, a quirky art installation and unlikely tourist attraction outside of the tiny West Texas town, has found a way around state regulations that threatened its closure, the artists and state officials confirmed Friday.

The Texas Department of Transportation had been struggling for a year on how to deal with the installation, which was constructed in 2005 to look exactly like a Prada store, though the doors are always locked. The exhibition is maintained by the Ballroom Marfa Foundation, a nonprofit, and has no affiliation with the fashion company.

At issue was the installation’s sign, which could have been viewed as illegal under state rules that TxDOT enforced last year to shut down Playboy Marfa, an installation commissioned by the magazine that prominently featured a large neon sign of the Playboy logo. TxDOT decided last year that the Playboy installation was illegal advertising because the company had not applied for a permit to erect the sign along a federal highway.

While Prada Marfa technically sits on private land, its awning stretches over the public right of way, prompting concerns that it too ran afoul of the same regulation. TxDOT officials had strongly suggested that they had no interest in shutting down a well-regarded art installation but that a desire to apply the state’s regulations uniformly might push their hand.

On Friday, the Ballroom Marfa Foundation confirmed on its website that it had found a solution “after a series of productive negotiations with the Texas Department of Transportation.”

The foundation arranged to get Prada Marfa classified as an art museum by leasing the property on which the building stands, TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said.

“The site is now an art museum site and the building is their single art exhibit,” Beyer said. “As such, associated signage on the building is now considered to be an ‘on-premise’ sign under state rules and does not require a state permit under the Highway Beautification Act.”

The prospect of TxDOT shutting down Prada Marfa brought criticism from a wide variety of people last year, including artists, celebrities and state officials.

“I would disagree that an art installation that has been present for the last eight years is suddenly considered illegal when looked at relative to the Playboy Enterprises installation,” state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, wrote in a letter to TxDOT last year.

TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton said in a statement Friday that the agency always appreciated Prada Marfa’s “cultural significance.”

“We could not be more pleased that the agency was able to work together with Ballroom Marfa to preserve the iconic Prada Marfa for the enjoyment of current and future Texans,” Barton said.

AMAN BATHEJA reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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