MARFA, Texas --There’s a fight in far west Texas over a 40 foot rabbit near the tiny town Marfa. The giant bunny commissioned by Playboy magazine is challenging the definition of art after the Texas Department of Transportation ordered the landowner to remove the unauthorized sign.
Marfa, nestled in cattle country, has become a magnet for contemporary art, but many residents are hopping mad about the roadside bunny and black spray painted Chevy near the entrance to the town.
“I think it’s kind of tacky and showy,” said Berry Stein, 27, a summer intern at the Ballroom Marfa gallery. “It represents what Playboy is in some people’s opinion,” said Stein.
The bunny in a bow tie is the talk of the town. One local artist printed up bumper stickers that say “kill the rabbit” and show the Playboy bunny in the crosshairs of a rifle scope.
There’s a backlash from many in the region who see the Playboy display as an unauthorized billboard.
“It makes blatant use of an advertising logo,” said Lonn Taylor, a historian who lives in nearby Fort Davis.
After a Marfa resident filed a complaint, TX DOT ordered the landowner to remove the “sign” within 45 days because “the owner does not have a Texas License for Outdoor Advertising and a specific permit application for the sign was not submitted,” according to a statement released by the agency. And the statement said, “Furthermore, the location at which the sign has been placed does not qualify for a permit.”
The agency gave the landowner 45 days to remove the display and the deadline expires in mid-August.
In response Playboy issued its own statement, “We do not believe that the art installation by Richard Phillips violates any laws, rules or regulations. Our legal counsel is currently looking into this matter and we hope to resolve this issue satisfactorily and as quickly as possible."
The issue is testing the limits of what’s considered art in an area of wide open spaces and few billboards.
About 30 miles down the road two German artists set up “Prada Marfa” in 2005. The small replica of a store complete with purses and shoes from the designer is on isolated stretch of road and attracts visitors from around the world.
“I had to get a picture for my wife who is not with me today,” said Jeff Price from Fort Worth standing outside Prada Marfa .
“I can’t tell if they’re doing it because no one in their right mind would think to come out here and do it so that’s why it’s hip,” said Price of the Prada and Playboy displays.
The controversy has translated into fresh publicity for Playboy Enterprises which on the company website says it commissioned the Marfa Playboy exhibit to “re-imagine the iconic brand.”
Most locals have made up their minds about the display.
“That’s not art. That’s advertising,” said Danny Phillip, a cowboy who works on a nearby ranch.