Land art, located on Route 90 in Texas. Conceptualised by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, commissioned by the Art Production Fund and completed in 2005. This is PRADA MARFA. Land art is three dimensional and designed to “transform the perception of a space.” It is not only the art itself that is important, but also its setting and locale that lends to one’s interpretation of the piece.
It is a Prada store in miniature, complete with authentic signage and a minimalist display of the 2005 Fall collection of handbags and shoes. There are no sales associates, no credit card machines; the door doesn’t open. The press release describes the space as a “sealed time capsule.” A fish bowl aesthetic.
It is in the middle of, seemingly, nowhere. Located technically in Marfa, Texas (population, 1981) and bordering Valentine, Texas (population, 217) the piece sits on the side of a highway, amongst dust, gravel, and flies. It looks real, but it’s not. It nods to matters of high and lowbrow culture. The art critic who sojourns from New York to Marfa to view the piece in all its ironic glory. The mid-Westerner, travelling along Route 90, happening upon an upscale boutique, but perplexed as to why it’s closed in the middle of the afternoon.
It cost just under $100,000 to create. No repairs or maintenance were anticipated as the artists’s intended the piece to age gracefully, deteriorating into the natural landscape; windswept by the desert air. A cultural artefact with a stunning patina. They did not, however, anticipate the vandalism that the building would suffer.
Unfortunately, Villareal’s romantic envisioning has yet to be realised.
The first act of vandalism occurred just a few days following the ‘opening’ of Prada Marfa (for lack of a better word, as the door is in fact, sealed). Vandals graffitied the exterior walls, broke through the inoperative front door, and stole the fashionable and costly contents. Little did they know, all the shoes were righties, no pairs to be had. The bags probably fetched some pretty pennies online or were lavish gifts to the wives, girlfriends, or mothers of these sordid hoodlums.
Or perhaps the intruders were not sordid at all. Maybe they belonged to the burgeoning local artist community of Marfa, who, like the SoHo artists before them, were protesting the intrusion of mainstream brands upon their space.
Elmgreen & Dragset’s comment on growing infiltration of designer shops in SoHo. Growing art community in Marfa gets infiltrated by ‘faux’ Prada store created by Elmgreen & Dragset. It would explain the graffiti: “Dumb” and “Dum Dum” spray-painted on the walls — simple, minimalist, mocking. These defacing words act as a mimicry of the artists’s own political statement in New York, years prior.
Prada Marfa may be l'art pour l'art, and not economically driven, but the piece is intimately connected to the brand, since Elmgreen & Dragset were granted permission from Miuccia Prada to use the trademark (she also personally selected the bags and shoes featured in the space). The piece itself and the dialogues that surround the piece, may be considered cultural criticisms of rabid consumerism and economies of scale, but Prada Marfa also provides a sizeable dose of publicity for the brand itself. Prada bag, anyone?
In his theory of Simulacra, Baudrillard argues that reality no longer exists, but has been replaced by a hyperreality, where the image has “all the signs of the real” but fails to sustain reality or even indicate that a shift in reality has occurred. Baudrillard suggested that we desire the image over the real. He viewed the image as a destruction of our reality principle — the “murderous power of images, murderers of the real.” For Baudrillard, Marfa Prada is a simulacrum of the brand. It is even more desirable as a copy, because in many ways, it is more accessible. Like purchasing an imitation Canal St. handbag, or ordering a “PRADA MARFA 1837 MI →” pillow on Etsy, travellers to Prada Marfa can take their obligatory photo of the site and feel satiated; bringing home a little bit of luxury with them. And such a photo is even better than having the real thing, since this bit of Prada is ironic, political, cool.
Baudrillard tells Borges’s fable of an empire whose cartographers were able to create a map so perfect and detailed in its representation that the map covered the empire exactly. The map survived, the empire declined, and the map became more valuable than the territory itself. It became the real. It is the map — the image — that is inhabited and thus the image is prosperous while reality is left to deteriorate. And even when Prada Marfa, a simulacrum of Prada on Fifth Avenue, begins to wane (or be destroyed, as it already has on more than one occasion), the photographs, the pillows, the replica bags, and the photographs of the pillows will remain — just another stage of simulacra.
All things considered, there is something whimsical and alluring about this lone building on the highway. The juxtaposition of Marfa and its lonesome environment is somehow magical in its incongruity. Like something out of a dream, it is odd. I love the idea of someone coming upon the space and being quietly jolted by its existence — like a desert mirage that is there one minute and gone the next. Even though you know Marfa is not real — like seeing the marionette’s strings or walking through a movie set or seeing the Man Behind the Curtain — encountering the cracks in its verisimilitude is what lends to its appeal. Another point in Marfa’s favour has been its ability to provoke a reaction (a characteristic of “good art”), including a few attempted bullet holes.
It is also of interest to note that there is no ‘real’ Prada store in Texas. Only Prada Marfa.
I can’t wait to go.