One would imagine that if a collector lives in Texas, then they are geographically near the Donald Judd and Chinati Foundation located in Marfa TX. Anyone interested in art would enjoy learning about Judd’s work at a small town where they sell bumper stickers that read WWDJD – What Would Donald Judd Do. With this in mind, last October I took my clients, who live in Austin, Texas, to Marfa, Texas during the weekend dedicated to re-opening Judd’s freestanding works in concrete.
We began the trip at the client’s home in Austin where I help curate their collection. And here the adventure begins – we may have started in Texas, yet we still needed to board a plane, fly to El Paso, rent a car and drive approximately 3 hours on a two lane desert road until we came upon the small West Texas town of Marfa. Marfa is the best place to view Donald Judd’s work, one of the most important sculptors of the 20th Century.
Before entering the city proper, on a two lane desert road with nothing on it, emerges the work titled Prada Marfa, a public work by Elmgreen and Dragset, financed by the Art Production Fund. The Prada store stands in the middle of the desert, full of handbags and shoes chosen by Miuccia Prada. The store is perpetually closed, yet there it sits waiting for the art world to drive by and think, maybe for a second, it is real and one could stop off in the desert for a handbag, a successful comment on our conspicuous consumption mentality. Consequently, if any store relates to Judd it is Prada, with its minimal architecture and perfectly lined up shoes and shirts. The Prada aesthetic is suggestive of what Judd might have worn or constructed, had he been alive today, assuming he was interested in venturing into the commercial world. The Prada vernacular exists in the art world’s awareness as an image of the Marfa store photographed by Andreas Gursky. Prada Marfa also works as a fabulous sculpture, in its own right, without Judd’s presence hovering nearby. It is confrontational, out of place, although what would be ‘in place’ on a desert road? The work has been vandalized, graffiti sprayed on the side and a small bullet hole through the window. Provocation in all forms, all the signs that the work has been duly noted, the classic signs of a public sculpture at work.
Judd moved from New York City to Marfa in 1973 to find the expanses that he needed to create his works of poetic formalism. Our weekend at the Judd Foundation began with the sun setting as we had cocktails by the newly reopened outdoor sculptures. Afterwards we were summoned to dinner by bagpipes, Judd’s music of choice. Throughout the weekend, we attended lectures about Judd’s work and toured his home and studio. On Saturday night we attended Dan Deacon’s electrifying and eccentric music performance – crazy, and more so in a small West Texas town. And afterwards we went to the local Marfa bar with the townies, country music and foosball. The contrast between the two evening’s entertainments is one of the best range of spectrums that I have experienced. As an art person from New York, believe me, it was obvious. Yet there are a few local Marfa artists – Jeff Elrod, Christopher Wool, and Charlene von Heyl – to truly mend the cross over and have a New Yorker interested in art feeling at home.
Avant-garde Prada Marfa project a fashionable target for vandalism – Marfa, Texas
VALENTINE, Texas — These are tough times for Prada Marfa, the quirky art project standing alone in the remote desert of Jeff Davis County in far West Texas.
If the harsh environment doesn’t provide enough stress, the 15-foot-by-25-foot adobe cube building intended to masquerade as a boutique of the luxury Italian fashion house is being battered by vandals.
Graffiti is spray painted on an exterior wall and bullet holes pepper the windows that front U.S. Highway 90 about 35 miles west of the internationally known art mecca of Marfa. A steel post that held a dedication marker next to the structure appears to have been mowed down by a vehicle.
“I’m disappointed with the way it is,” says Boyd Elder, the local site representative for the 6-year-old $100,000 project designed by Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. “We’re dealing with it. It’s just a matter of budget. We’re going to take the graffiti off and make some changes … as soon as we can come up with some money.”
Elder rescued the damaged dedication plaque and said he’ll reinstall it as part of the repairs.
But Elmgreen, in an email to The Associated Press, says these latest incidents of destruction may mean it’s time to pull the plug on the entire project.
“The store has been attacked before,” he said. “And when it will get restored again, the vandalism will for sure happen again, too.
“At some point, we might ask the local authorities to take responsibility for it and if they show no interest, it might be time for tearing it down and only keep it as a wonderful memory.”
The building mimics a Prada store, with softly lighted shelves of expensive women’s shoes and a couple of displays of equally pricey purses.
But the door stays locked. You can look but can’t touch shoes that can start at more than $500 and purses that easily climb into four figures.
“It was always our intention to let the Prada Marfa disintegrate over time, but we hoped it would happen in a natural manner,” Elmgreen said. “There is not much entertainment along Highway 90 so, of course, the sculpture, which has become something of a landmark in the area, is an obvious target for bored vandals.”
Elder said a recent lightning strike near the site knocked out an online video feed he monitors, making it more difficult to keep tabs on intruders.
“We’re going to readjust the cameras and spruce the place up,” he said. “I’m hoping we’re going to catch someone. Some people love it and other people just despise it.”
The project on a tiny piece of desolate grazing land was completed in October 2005. Mountains on the horizon surround it and the only signs of civilization are the highway and a train track paralleling the highway. Traffic is nearly nonexistent.
Milan-based Prada SpA hailed it at the time as a work of minimalist art. Art Review magazine described it as having “aesthetic friction in an iconic wilderness.”
Others saw it as a target.
Only a couple days after it was finished, somebody hooked one end of a chain to the front door and the other to a vehicle and ripped the door open. The bandits didn’t find out until examining their loot that the shoes they took were right-foot only.
The items subsequently were replaced by Prada and graffiti the intruders also left behind was removed. In the years since, the original plate glass windows have been replaced with panes of three-eighths-inch-thick bullet-resistant polycarbonate. Vandals with some success have tried to scratch words on it and have dented it with gun shots. At least one slug is burrowed in the plastic.
“Prada Marfa is now 6 years old and it has probably been one of the most spoken and written about works in Texas in the past decade,” Elmgreen said. “If the population of nearby Marfa would like to keep it, we would, of course, be very happy.”