Show Down in Marfa, Texas: Is Playboy Sign Art or Advertising?

Playboy-Offending SignEarlier this year, Playboy Enterprises, Inc. acquired a 6,500 square foot plot of land on the outskirts of Marfa, Texas and in mid-June installed two roadside artworks. Designed by Neville Wakefield and Richard Phillips, the first is an homage to artist Donald Judd (who previously lived in the area), consisting of a muscle car perched on a tilted rectangular cube.  The second is a 13 by 20 foot neon light bunny, the icon of the Playboy company, perched on a 40-foot pole.  

Hyperallergic reported in June: “This neon bunny with ‘postapocalyptic’ Judd ‘redo’ could be considered part of a lineage of strange, roadside Americana: it is after all just another weird landmark in the middle of nowhere—and interesting site to see and reason to detour off the highway.”  The Playboy sign is similar to the Prada Marfa, installed eight years ago in Valentine, Texas.  The building is a shell store that does not sell any Prada products and intended to slowly disintegrate

The Prada Marfa, near Valentine, Texas.Yet, the town of Marfa complained that the installation was a blemish in the community, and an overt advertisement for Playboy.  One resident, Lineaus Lorette, filled an official complaint with the Texas Department of Transportation.  Lorette told the Associate Press: “I thought it was a sign—a corporate logo.  And in Texas you can’t put up signs without permits…. I was really ambivalent.  It’s a beautiful sign.  The problem it that it’s a sign.  The rules have to apply to everybody.”

The Texas Department of Transportation has sided with the community and given Playboy 45 days to remove the installation/sign.  They sited that Playboy did not have a permit for Outdoor Advertising.

Playboy is fighting the decision.  In a statement they said: “We do not believe the art installation by Richard Phillips violates any laws, rules or regulations…. Our legal counsel is currently looking into this matter and we hope to resolve this issue satisfactorily and as quickly as possible.”

Sources: “Playboy Sculpture In Marga Has Texas Highway Officials Hot and Bothered,” The Huffington Post; “TxDOT: Playboy Roadside Art Near Marfa Illegal,” El Paso Times; “Why is Playboy Erecting a Neon Bunny in Marfa Texas?Hyperallergic.

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