For locals and visitors, one of the must see stops in the Big Bend is the sophisticated Prada Marfa art structure that has been drawing attention since it first burst onto the arts scene 15 years ago.
In 2005, Art Production Fund, a New York-based non-profit public contemporary arts funding organization, partnered with Ballroom Marfa to present a permanent sculpture titled, “Prada Marfa” by artists Elmgreen & Dragset.
The prominent and stylish display sits permanently west of Valentine on desolate ranching land. The replica of a fashionable boutique features a display of fall 2005 Prada stilettos and handbags as seen through the storefront windows. The unique setup, which seems to stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of the Far West Texas desert, was granted museum status by the Texas Department of Transportation in 2014.
For 25 years, Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen, originally from Denmark, and Ingar Dragset from Norway, have collaborated on many unique contemporary art installations worldwide, and have won numerous awards and accolades.
For Prada Marfa, Elmgreen & Dragset wanted to convey something beyond just making a fashion statement.
“We simply wanted to see how a posh designer shop would survive if it was displaced, far away from its normal metropolitan setting and into the desert,” they explained. “The location of the work, alone on the highway, draws attention to its otherness, which might cause passersby to pause and maybe question what it’s doing there, what it might mean, or even bigger questions, perhaps about belonging or alienation.”
At the very beginning, Elmgreen & Dragset thought about installing a Prada structure in Nevada, but when they presented the idea to Art Production Fund in New York, they discovered it had connections with Marfa and Ballroom Marfa.
“With the Judd Foundation close by and its legacy of minimalism, locating the artwork around Marfa seemed to make more sense,” they said. “We wanted to see how such an easily recognizable store would look in the middle of the desert, displaced and inaccessible, like a weird, surreal time capsule.”
Since the beginning of the project, Elmgreen & Dragset have been in close contact with several locals, and they were grateful for the support of several Marfa residents, including the people who donated the land - the late Walter Alton “Slim” Brown and his wife Smokey. Well-known Marfa artist Boyd Elder was also instrumental in conserving the installation.
Just last year, the artists made the trip to Marfa to attend a celebration that featured live music and Tex Mex food.
“Although we’ve been in touch regularly with Ballroom Marfa and the individuals who maintain the artwork, it was certainly surreal to see that it still is just as it was in 2005,” the artists exclaimed. “It almost felt like we’d gone back in time. Somehow Prada Marfa is a time capsule - it seems to have really become part of the fabric of the community.”