A photograph of the Prada “store” opened by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset in 2005.

In line with their other installations, where they recreate and displace common signifiers causing surreal experiences for viewers, this project was intended to be a hyper-realistic sculpture of a luxury store. The Prada “store” has a sealed door, is never open to commerce, and displays a selection of coveted objects.

In the middle of the West Texas desert, on a country road leading to the small town of Marfa, completely isolated from its usual urban context, Elmgreen and Dragset’s symbol of luxury and capitalist promise still sits in that romantic landscape, jarringly juxtaposed with Marfa’s hard-working native inhabitants, albeit with graffiti now scrawled on the exterior of its walls.

It was intended that the structure never be repaired, allowing it to slowly degrade back into the natural landscape. The plan went awry when, three days after the store was completed, vandals graffitied the exterior, and broke into the building stealing handbags and shoes.

Built in 2005 near the West Texan towns of Valentine and Marfa, ‘Prada Marfa’ is a permanent sculpture created by artist-collaborators Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Masquerading as a Prada mini-boutique, the sculpture’s door is in fact non-functioning. Instead the building is intended to never be used and never repaired. For the artists, the hope is that over time, the piece will slowly degrade back into the natural landscape.

Despite this “master-plan”, the artists had to briefly deviate when, just three days after it was completed, vandals broke into it, stole some bags and graffitied the exterior. Wikipedia describes the incident best:

A few days after Prada Marfa was officially revealed, the installation was vandalized. The building was broken into and all of its contents (six handbags and 14 right footed shoes) were stolen, and the word “Dumb” and the phrase “Dum Dum” were spray painted on the sides of the structure. The sculpture was quickly repaired, repainted, and restocked. The new Prada purses do not have bottoms and instead hide parts of a security system that alerts authorities if the bags are moved

This is only one of a number of great(?) stories about the installation. In late-2009 the New York Times writer Daphne Beal was passing through the isolated stretch of Highway 90 when she stopped by the installation. For her, the work’s punch-line felt a little pat, yet when she discovered a series of business cards lined up along a ledge at the bottom of the installation she couldn’t help but feel a strangely moved. “The idea of so many people passing through” she said “was strangely moving”. For Beal there was something special about all these people who passed by and wanted to prove they were there.

You can take what you will from Elmgreen and Dragset’s installation – from the stories above it’s clear that people already have. Personally I think it’s an interesting and unique piece of art. Standing on it’s own, this Prada shop is isolated from its usual urban surroundings. Elmgreen and Dragset have taken a symbol of luxury and juxtaposed it with the romantic landscape of the Texan desert. It’s a surreal and jarringly image, and one which is filled with a dry sense of irony and a strange sense of odd isolation.

Elmgreen and Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 123, 2001 
MDF, wood, paint, door handles, hinges; 217.5 cm × 133.5 cm

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset

Han (concept visualization)

Copenhagen’s melancholic statue “The Little Mermaid,” the most famous public artwork in Denmark, won’t be lonely much longer. This summer, Puckish European art duo Elmgreen & Dragset will install a new permanent public sculpture on the Elsinore waterfront of a simiarly posed boy, “Han,” made of shiny stainless steel, who will blink creepily once every hour.


Collaborative duo Elmgreen & Dragset’s 2001 installation “Powerless Structures.”

A room is often defined by its shape and measurements, its walls, floor and ceiling. In this case the room is defined by its accessibility: Who and how many we let into the space defines whether it’s a private or a public space and makes the simple distinction between venues for popular culture and for fine arts. The door symbolizes a potential of openness but it also reflects a possible exclusion.

In Elmgreen & Dragset’s new works all the small displacements remind us of how we on a daily basis try to surround ourselves with security - a number of crazy tools invented to please our paranoia.