Prada Texas: Co-creating experiences with Elmgreen and Dragset

In 2005, the Scandinavian artists, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, conceived an art installation in the form of a fake Prada boutique – stocked with bags and shoes – and plonked it down near a small town in Texas, far away from the normal locations of Prada stores. This placing of the store in a desert-like, rural landscape (with echoes of Wim Wenders’ 1984 film Paris Texas) and the pointlessness of a closed shop, point to the artists’ intention of critically commenting on the growth of luxury stores and how they had crept into urban culture. The location near Marfa, Texas, which was once the home of the artist Donald Judd, whose pared-back sculptures are redolent of the minimalism of luxury boutique interiors, added an extra frisson of meaning as to the way that the world of brands co-opts artistic expression. Elmgreen and Dragset, imagined that the boutique, would fall into disrepair and crumble away and in time would become a half-forgotten memory.

However, what the artists intended and what happened diverged with Elmgreen noting, “it’s almost like being a parent who experienced children growing up and going a direction they never intended.”[1] Even though the Prada Marfa was meant as a critique of luxury brands, Miuccia Prada (whose family supports the contemporary art,  Fondazione Prada) donated the products for the store. Then, over time vandals stole the products and defaced the building. Elmgreen and Dragset weren’t upset about that – they felt it showed a sort of engagement and reflected life in the decaying real world. However, two art commissioning organizations, decided to step in and maintain the installation, so that it would keep its luxury boutique look, rather than fading into the landscape. Also the artists’ hopes that the installation would become a rumoured, barely remembered idea were also confounded. With the emergence of digital photography and the sharing afforded by social media, so Prada Marfa acquired celebrity status and has become a popular visitor attraction. Visitors started to share selfies, including well-known people such as Beyoncé (photographed leaping into the air in front of the store – over 571,000 likes on Instagram), companies produced Prada Marfa products and in an episode of the Simpsons, Homer peed on the building.

The Prada Marfa shows that it is never only the initiator of an idea that defines the experience, but that others are continually interpreting, subverting and sharing it, so that it morphs into new previously unimagined shapes. As the French film critic, Jean-Louis Comolli, notes, “Never ‘passive’, a spectator works.” It reminds us that the meaning of things is fluid, changing and always co-created together with others. 

[1] Janelle Zara (2019). Prada in the Desert: how a fake luxury boutique became a Texas landmark. The Guardian.  3 October 2019.