With help of attorney DeGuerin, Playboy bunny remains standing
By SARAH M. VASQUEZ
MARFA – The 45-day deadline for the removal of the Playboy Marfa art installation has passed. August 5 was the day set by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and the neon Playboy bunny sign still stands 20 feet tall west of town on US 90.
Veronica Beyer, TxDOT Director of Media Relations, said in an email that “the order of removal issued to the landowner has been rescinded, and TxDOT is having discussions with Playboy Enterprises to find a solution to this issue.”
Playboy Enterprises Inc. installed the neon bunny sign and a 1972 Dodge Charger mounted on a slanted concrete box in June and has since drawn local and national attention. Playboy said in a news release that the art installation by Neville Wakefield and Richard Phillips was part of an effort to re-imagine the brand.
But early last month, TxDOT ordered the removal of the art installation after a local resident filed a complaint. Beyer said the property owner didn’t have the proper Texas License for Outdoor Advertising and also did not submit a special permit application.
At the time, Playboy’s public relations firm, PR Consulting, responded in a statement that they did not believe the art installation was in violation of any laws, rules or regulations and will have their legal counsel look into the matter.
The firm recently said in an email that Playboy is “engaged in productive and ongoing conversations with Texas government officials. We appreciate TxDOT for providing an opportunity to discuss Richard Phillips’ art and to work toward a reasonable resolution for the Marfa art installation.”
Dick DeGuerin, the noted Houston and Marfa defense attorney, is representing Playboy Enterprises during these discussions and said in an interview with Marfa Public Radio General Manager Tom Michael that he hopes Playboy, TxDOT and the Attorney General’s office will come to an arrangement to let the installation stand.
“I hope they’ll come to an accommodation and recognize it for what it is: art and a comment on art,” said DeGuerin. “Provocative, yes, but a contribution to the overall art scene in Marfa.”
He said the removal order was misdirected, because it was originally directed to the landowners, who were merely leasing the property to the installation owners. They didn’t have anything to do with the design or the art.
“Because it was misdirected, it gave us, those who were in support of the installation, some more time to talk to TxDOT and to impress on them the seriousness of the art involved and to ask for their understanding. I think that a great step toward that was made this week,” said DeGuerin.
DeGuerin said he got involved with the case to “save the bunny.” He said he believes the installation is quintessentially Marfa. To him, it’s funny and seems to be a comment on the holy trinity of Marfa art.
“I believe that it’s just because Playboy sponsored it and has their logo up there doesn’t make it any less artistic,” said DeGuerin. “It certainly is a bit controversial. It has created a lot of discussion and that’s what art is supposed to do. It’s supposed to be provocative and create discussion.”
He said TxDOT recognized in the meeting that Playboy Marfa may have artistic merit. He thinks there is a fuzzy line between art and advertising, which is the current debate among the community, but to have a major corporation come in Marfa and donate an installation to the people for a period of time is worthwhile.
“I think anything that contributes to the view of Marfa as an art mecca, which it is, and a music mecca and an intellectual mecca, it contributes to Marfa,” said DeGuerin. “So I don’t think just bringing dollars in and contributing to the economy is the definition of what a contribution to Marfa is.”
As for Lineaus Hooper Lorette, the Marfa resident who originally filed the complaint against the installation, DeGuerin said that they have agreed to disagree.
In a recent conversation with The Big Bend Sentinel, Lorette recalled that TxDOT ordered the Marfa Knights of Columbus to remove a pro-life billboard east of Marfa off US 67/90 in 2003, noting that what’s fair for one organization should be fair for all.