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The New Republic on Prada and Playboy Marfas

28 Jun 2013

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image via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Jason Farago contrasts the Marfa-adjacent public sculpture from Playboy, “the troubled, “aspirational lifestyle brand”” with Elmgreen and Dragset’s Prada Marfa in The New Republic:

It’s one thing, though, for artists like Elmgreen and Dragset, with their evidently ersatz shoe emporium, to mock the larger art world’s absorption by the commercial domain. It’s quite another for a corporation itself to get in on the act, underwriting branded material that’s intended not as a critique of commercialization but as a simple PR opportunity. Enter, then, Richard Phillips—an artist who has made his name through a deft imbrication of high art and the commercial sphere. If you’re familiar with the name, it’s probably thanks to a TMZ-friendly exhibition he mounted at one of Gagosian’s many New York spaces last year: a series of giant paintings of Lindsay Lohan, not photorealist so much as just really, really big. He also won a spate of press coverage for a film he made of Lohan, posing à la Brigitte Bardot in Contempt.

It’s a great read, recognizing both the “cunning” nature of the Playboy project, and the naievete of its more histrionic detractors, saying …

There’s no space for criticism, since everything you could hate about Playboy Marfa, from its theft of Judd’s legacy to its glorification of a brand that objectifies women, has already been accounted for. If you complain, you mark yourself as someone who just doesn’t know how the game is played—and Phillips doesn’t just play the game, he’s mastered it. Playboy apparently did not require Phillips to incorporate the bunny logo into his work. He went for it anyway, and made it glow in the night, all the better to foreground the mutual transactions among artists, entertainers, corporations, and indeed pornographers.

Farago closes with an observation that may be of comfort for the doomsayers both local and far-flung who are ready to set an expiration date on Marfa’s cultural cache (or at least dread the influx of hat-bros that are often associated with Playboy, Maxim, et al), despite the reality that the Big Bend of Far West Texas was a transformative landscape and magnet for all number of seekers, curmudgeons and decidedly Texan independent spirits long before Donald Judd set up shop here 40 years ago.

Phillips, depressingly but with a welcome honesty, takes the vacuity of contemporary art as a given and jumps off from there. The PR is the art and vice versa: a relief, since it saves all of us a trip through the desert. In an interview with Bullett magazine Phillips notes that although he hopes to travel there one day, he’s never actually been to Marfa …

Keep reading in The New Republic.

For those who do care to make a visit out here to these high desert grasslands, we remind you that Rashid Johnson’s New Growth exhibition at Ballroom is open until July 7, and we’ll be welcoming Alix Pearlstein for the opening of her contribution to the Artists’ Films International exhibition on July 19. Pearlstein will be making the trip out to Marfa, of course, and we hope you’ll join us for her exhibition walk-through on 20 July at 10am.