I’ve seen photographs of Elmgreen and Dragset’s ‘Prada Marfa’ before. They’re the sort of strange and surreal images that often show up context-free on the likes of Ffffound and Tumblr (and even Google Street View). As a building, it looks as though it shouldn’t exist – it’s as if the whole thing had just been photoshopped into existence. Yet it’s real. Despite having seen it many times before, it’s only recently that I’ve taken the time to discover the context of the work and who made it.
Built in 2005 near the West Texan towns of Valentine and Marfa, ‘Prada Marfa’ is a permanent sculpture created by artist-collaborators Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Masquerading as a Prada mini-boutique, the sculpture’s door is in fact non-functioning. Instead the building is intended to never be used and never repaired. For the artists, the hope is that over time, the piece will slowly degrade back into the natural landscape.
Despite this “master-plan”, the artists had to briefly deviate when, just three days after it was completed, vandals broke into it, stole some bags and graffitied the exterior. Wikipedia describes the incident best:
A few days after Prada Marfa was officially revealed, the installation was vandalized. The building was broken into and all of its contents (six handbags and 14 right footed shoes) were stolen, and the word “Dumb” and the phrase “Dum Dum” were spray painted on the sides of the structure. The sculpture was quickly repaired, repainted, and restocked. The new Prada purses do not have bottoms and instead hide parts of a security system that alerts authorities if the bags are moved
This is only one of a number of great(?) stories about the installation. In late-2009 the New York Times writer Daphne Beal was passing through the isolated stretch of Highway 90 when she stopped by the installation. For her, the work’s punch-line felt a little pat, yet when she discovered a series of business cards lined up along a ledge at the bottom of the installation she couldn’t help but feel a strangely moved. “The idea of so many people passing through” she said “was strangely moving”. For Beal there was something special about all these people who passed by and wanted to prove they were there.
You can take what you will from Elmgreen and Dragset’s installation – from the stories above it’s clear that people already have. Personally I think it’s an interesting and unique piece of art. Standing on it’s own, this Prada shop is isolated from its usual urban surroundings. Elmgreen and Dragset have taken a symbol of luxury and juxtaposed it with the romantic landscape of the Texan desert. It’s a surreal and jarringly image, and one which is filled with a dry sense of irony and a strange sense of odd isolation.