The artwork by Elmgreen & Dragset has made an art destination of Texas

Art exists everywhere, not just in museums. Grace Banks has delved into the best places in the world to experience art off the beaten track in the book Art Escapes (Gestalten), highlighting some of the best works by artists including Niki de Saint Phalle, Sol LeWitt and Mark Rothko, in forests, streets and even churches. As we begin to plan our summer vacations, we’re highlighting some of the locations in Art Escapes that deserve a place on your summer itinerary.

What do Prada and Berlin’s most avant-garde contemporary art duo have in common? One of the most visited pop-up boutiques in the world. Located bang in the middle of the Chihuahua desert in Texas, minutes from the tiny town Valentine and a forty-five minute drive from Marfa, it’s this alluring town of Marfa ― straight out of a spaghetti western ― that gave Elmgreen & Dragset the inspiration for one of their most iconic works, a Prada boutique dropped in the middle of the American South.


Prada Marfa is an installation by the artist team Elmgreen & Dragset and built by the architecture duo Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello as a “sculptural intervention” in the arid desert. After opening in the summer of 2005, Prada Marfa has ended up on some of the most diverse instagram feeds of the world, from Beyonce to Hans Ulrich Obrist, and is now the holy grail of art destinations. Perhaps surprising for an installation that’s often perceived as a critique of luxury fashion and consumerism.

But this isn’t a case of art butting heads with fashion. Featuring Prada clothes, shoes and accessories chosen by Miuccia Prada herself, as well as acting as an indictment of the late capitalist obsession with shopping, Prada Marfa is a celebration of fashion’s occasional sense of humour and a criticism of urban living as the ultimate ableist achievement. Working with Prada, one of the most recognisable brands in the world, and placing one of their boutiques ― always located in the richest global cities ― in a desert hundreds of miles from the art and fashion capitals, Elmgreen & Dragset suggest the rural as a viable cultural destination over the metropolis.


Elmgreen & Dragset wanted the work to act as a “pop architectural land art project”, and the sculpture asks many of the same questions that land artists such as Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson and Ricard Serra did in the 1970s. What happens when a natural landscape holds a piece of art that needs it elements to succeed? Fellow outsider artist Donald Judd first brought the art world to Marfa in the 1970s when he decamped there and starting playing with the idea of art in non traditional locations with his Chinati Foundation. Through Prada Marfa, Elmgreen & Dragset follow his lead, insisting, like many of the great land artists, no repairs be carried out on the boutique in order for it to naturally dissolve into the desert landscape that surrounds it. Although it will be along time until that happens, the building is made by San Fratello and Rael from sturdy adobe bricks over a dense aluminum frame.


The small city of Marfa in itself has an allegorical status in the art world. After Judd bought a house in the town, a steady stream of fans, musicians, artists and writers followed for visits. This mythical status means it’s not just the artwork itself but the journey there that counts, with visitors often stopping off during the short drive from Marfa along Highway 90 to take in that very specific smell of the desert.

Artist Boyd Elder served as the caretaker for the installation in its first years. Labelled the “most famous artist you’ve never heard of” by local paper Texas Monthly, ​​he’s seen hundreds of people pose for photographs of the sculpture’s glamorous glass shopfront, absorbing the thrill to see fashion and art take their place in this historic destination.

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