Guerilla artist stirs it up with Prada Marfa vandalism
Criminal investigation launched in art case
By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA
MARFA – “ … so far the reporting has been very skewed and misinformed,” guerilla artist 9271977 told The Big Bend Sentinel via text message Tuesday morning. “And it’s a bit unfortunate the locals took it down so quickly. I hope the installation wasn’t destroyed. If so, such is life . . . it kinda proves the message.”
The series of texts came after three silver fire extinguishers covered in blue paint and adorned with photos of Moe, Larry, and Curley of the Three Stooges were placed in front of Eugene Binder’s gallery on North Highland Avenue in Marfa. The objects were accompanied by a statement written in chalk on the sidewalk that bared the words “cultural gate keepers.”
Although the artist remained coy during the text exchange on his involvement in the defacing or “appropriation” (the artist’s word) of the Prada Marfa installation west of Valentine on Sunday, statements made by the artist, whose phone number reaches a voicemail with an outgoing message only stating the numbers the artist associates with, point toward the work being his.
“Nothing wrong with all of it,” he wrote of his work. “Can’t wait for a proposal or call for art by the ‘art world.’”
The work, 9271977 said, was misinterpreted by all.
“I wish that it was analyzed and investigated as an installation it was. Everything was hand selected, painted, built, researched. The quotes were powerful. The questioning of TOMS and the state of America was powerful.”
Further questions by text were left unanswered, until late Wednesday afternoon, when 9271977 replied to a question regarding the media’s reaction to TOMS Marfa.
“A response to Michael Elmgreen is on the site,” his final text message read. “If you are interested in a serious dialog with me, I suggest you choose a side and be clear on your perspective. I’m not personally interested in furthering public drama and gossip as through it was some celebrity sensation. Art is to create dialogue, and with the internet you need to except [sic] your accountability that you’re speaking and telling a story to the globe.”
The presence of the artist in Marfa was also confirmed on Tuesday through a positive identification from Boyz 2 Men taco trailer owner David Beebe and employee David Garcia, who contacted the Sentinel after an encounter with a “weird, but really cool and nice guy” they suspected was 9271977. A glance at the photo of the artist found on his website led to both Davids saying it was definitely the customer from earlier that day.
Marfa resident Jason Oslo Kolker was also contacted by the man at the food trailer through Garcia’s cell phone, but no allusion to Prada/TOMS Marfa was made.
The identity of the vandal/artist was discovered through the Sentinel’s research into the text of the manifesto left at Prada Marfa. A search of the quote, “Creativity is the salvation of mankind,” had only one result, which was the similarly worded essay “Viva Las Vegas” on the website belonging to 9271977.
A hidden contact page on the website earlier this week is now viewable and may include a photo and phone number for the artist. Calls to the number were immediately sent to voicemail, with the outgoing message referring only to the numbers of which the artist associates himself.
The text message replies came two days after the discovery of the vandalism of Prada Marfa, which included the structure having been blasted on the east and west walls with blue paint, posters pasted to the polycarbonate windows, defaced bibles with quotes from philosophers, authors, and musicians hanging from the torn awnings, TOMS shoes, shoe bags, and boxes from the company’s One-for-One campaign, and a 1,161-word manifesto. Valentine resident Rita Weigart was the first to discover the vandalism.
“Nearly nine years since the inauguration of Prada Marfa, an investigative viewer can only assume the structure represents the reflection of a contemporary moment that catering to a society designed to respond to branding, consumption and money. Blended with narcissism and unethical hedonism, this is the society’s apocalyptic theatre,” the manifesto reads before changing scope to focus on TOMS shoes and the company’s founder, Blake Mycoskie. “Simultaneously in the United States, at large education systems are facing cuts, ethical fundamentals are at a loss with the apparent signs of social inequality. All the while Mycoskie focuses his attention in developing nations, though not to alleviate poverty through the company’s estimated $250 million in sales for 2013, as reported by Fast Company. TOMS shoes has been under scrutiny for its business model.”
9271977’s website was updated Wednesday morning to include a photo of the installation and the manifesto, which can be reached at www.9271977.com/biggerthanthebrand. The updated page also cites the time of the work as being 3:33am Sunday morning.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the web page flashed “I am 9271977.”
A search on a domain registry website indicates the person or firm that secured the URL address is from Scottsdale, Arizona.
“It’s an anti-TOMS campaign,” Ballroom Marfa Executive Director Melissa McDonnell Lujan told the Sentinel Monday afternoon. “It’s against TOMS’ Evangelical connections through an appropriation of Prada Marfa.”
The damage from the artist’s “campaign,” McDonnell said, will take an estimated $10,000 – $20,000 to repair the structure, with at least $5,000 needed to repaint the building.
“We’re more than likely going to have to get the money for repairing the building from our insurance,” Lujan said. “The amount that it will cost will definitely be outside our regular yearly maintenance budget.”
Should Lujan’s estimates be accurate, the artist may expect a felony criminal mischief charge should the artist be captured and ultimately convicted.
The Jeff Davis County and Presidio County sheriff’s offices have banded together for a joint investigation, Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez confirmed Wednesday morning. The Prada Marfa installation is located in Jeff Davis County.
“I won’t elaborate on the investigation,” Dominguez said. “Though I can confirm we are combining cases for one big charge. Anything the public sees; they can contact the sheriff’s office if they can. This guy is a paint freak.”
Jeff Davis County Sheriff Rick McIvor could not be reached for comment, but the Sentinel was contacted on Wednesday by sheriff’s deputy Drew Walker.
Also Wednesday, 83rd District Attorney Rod Ponton emailed the Sentinel requesting that reporter John Daniel Garcia preserve his notes and communications with 9271977 “so a grand jury subpoena may be served.”
Parada Marfa is an collaboration with Ballroom Marfa and the Art Production Fund of New York.
Ballroom issued this statement on Tuesday:
“Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa installation has provoked a number of reactions since it was constructed in 2005. Most responses take the form of playful snapshots while some would-be art critics register their thoughts in spent shell casings and graffiti. This is Far West Texas, and we would expect nothing less.
“Public art like Prada Marfa encourages engagement. Ballroom Marfa and Art Production Fund have taken the steps necessary to keep this public forum alive, whether that means passing around another photo of someone imitating Beyoncé’s leap, painting over a few months of accumulated graffiti or patching up the bullet holes in the windows.
“The most recent vandalism of the public Prada Marfa site is different. The large scale defacement of the structure overwhelms this forum and shuts down the dialogue. A site previously recognized as an example of sustainable earth architecture is now coated in toxic paint while the insulation foam garbage left behind by the defacer(s) blows across the highway and into the landscape. Spring breakers still stop to see the installation, but now there are Jeff Davis County deputies on scene as well.
“No decisions have been made other than that Ballroom Marfa and Art Production Fund will restore Prada Marfa, and it will remain a public site. We’re close to resolving the widely publicized issues with the Texas Department of Transportation, and we expect Prada Marfa will be around for years to come. It will surely continue to inspire a wide range of commentary; we just hope that a single point of view — one comprised of blue paint, industrial adhesive and insulation foam — will not override and destroy this exchange of ideas.”