When is a Prada shop not a Prada shop? When it’s one of the world’s wackiest art installations. Meet the Wild West’s creative side.
About the author: Hello! I’m Laura Mannering and I’m Editor of World Out There. Laura’s Travel Notes is the part of the blog where I put my briefer travel tips and bits – colourful snack-size travel bites to inspire you.
West Texas is cowboy ‘n’ oil country – rodeos and ranches, shuffleboard and ice-cold beers, mechanical oil diggers endlessly hammering into the parched earth. But it’s not all about enormous steaks and gun-slinging.
On a recent visit, I was surprised at the creative side of this part of the Lone Star State. In Lubbock, the home of Buddy Holly, there is now a huge arts centre, The Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, which includes the brilliant Charles Adams gallery and rooftop space, featuring work by young local artists.
In the virtual ghost town of Tulia (I didn’t see a tumbleweed, but felt there was one around every corner) Kenneth Wyatt goes for a more traditional artistic style at his rambling home/gallery/studio. A mischievous octogenarian with a colourful CV (he has worked as a Methodist minister, farmer and magician, among other things), Kenneth has created more than 9,000 pieces of cowboy art, most of which depict atmospheric rural landscapes, Texas sunsets and men being exceptionally manly. His works have been sold to a host of international dignataries, from the Bush family to Queen Elizabeth II. Drop in, have a browse at the art works and cowboy memorabilia, chat to Kenneth and marvel at his lovely home’s shag-pile carpets – so deep they would surely make Miss Ellie green with soft-furnishing envy.
But my favourite piece of Wild West artistic genius was the brilliant Prada Marfa installation. Sitting in splendid isolation on Highway 90, around an hour north-east of the town of Marfa itself, it is an exact replica of a Prada store. Alone at the side of the road – a desert highway which heads to El Paso – the familiar black and grey signage echos that found on the world’s poshest designer boulevards.
Inside, like museum pieces displayed against a perfect white backdrop, are Prada heels and bags. I press myself up against the window and push the door, just in case, but it’s firmly sealed.
This is no ordinary boutique. Prada Marfa was created as a permanent installation by Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset in 2005. It might seem strange to have chosen this scorched and little-populated corner of Texas to make an artistic statement, but Marfa itself is a hub of creativity.
It all started when minimalist artist and sculptor Donald Judd left New York and set up there in the 1971. Suddenly this tiny desert town became a remote mecca for bohos and arty types who wanted escape the city. Prada Marfa was part funded by Ballroom Marfa, a non-profit contemporary art space based in Marfa itself.
All the treasures inside this roadside anomaly are genuine Prada products from its autumn 2005 collection. But if you’re driving through the desert and suddenly feel the urge to splash out on a designer handbag, your retail therapy will have to wait. ‘The sculpture will never function as a place of commerce, the door cannot be opened,’ says the plaque beside the installation, just in case you were wondering.
As I cross back over the dusty road between Prada Marfa and our parked van, a freight train rumbles past, box-car doors open. We wave and the train honks, while the Prada boutique stands silent, pristine and untouched. A stylish tribute to the creative side of the Wild West.