Playboy Marfa Installation Draws State and National Media Attention

A spotlight from regional, state and national media is on Marfa once again after an art installation featuring the Playboy Bunny logo was completed last week west of town.

Wondering why there’s a neon rabbit lighting up the desert sky? And how did the story get so much attention? To help answer (most of) these questions, here’s Marfa Public Radio’s handy chronological Playboy Marfa breakdown. Read how the story unfolded, and a see a compilation of the media attention the installation has received. 

West Texans first received word of the bunny invasion in the May 30 issue of the Big Bend Sentinel, where Alberto Halpern reported on Playboy’s initial plans to set up camp in Marfa.

“According to documents filed with Presidio County, Playboy has applied for a certificate of compliance under the county’s subdivision regulations for new electrical service.”

The Sentinel reported Playboy leased about 6,500 square feet of land to site the installation. Following area light ordinances was one of the requirements for Playboy to light the sign. In the article, Paul Hunt, Presidio County Judge, said they complied.

“They’ve done some adjustments to direct the light down and they’ve worked with representatives from McDonald Observatory,” Hunt said about Playboy Enterprises’ efforts to comply with the Dark Skies ordinance. “

The temporary 13 x 20 Playboy bunny sign is about a mile west of Marfa city limits on the north side of Highway 90, and stands at 40 feet. Initial reports said that the logo and neighboring car sculpture, on top of an askew concrete box, would be on displayed for a year…as well as have a 24/7 online streaming video from across the highway.

After spotting the metal bunny ears passing by the radio station, Marfa Public Radio was on Monday, June 10 as the sculpture was installed, and also when it was completed on the evening of Wednesday, June 12. Almost immediately, passerbys began stopping along the highway and taking photos in front of the site. Rumors circulated that the Playmate of the Year was in town (and she actually was!).

(Photo: Megan Detrie/KRTS)

(KRTS Photo/ Megan Detrie)

But Playboy wasn’t really interested in talking. Initially, Halpern said he was asked multiple times by Playboy’s PR consulting firm to not report on the story in the Big Bend Sentinel. But, as he told Marfa Public Radio “theres this huge Playboy Bunny standing 40 feet in the air…and there’s just no way to keep that a secret.”

Outside our region, the media’s ears perked up after the photos were posted on Marfa area Facebook pages, including Marfa Public Radio’s. Publications such as Big 2 News, Complex Art+Design and Glasstire all published stories about it.

Locally, opinions swirled, monopolizing dinner conversation and grocery line gossip. People were amused, puzzled, angered and/or confused. An area resident who asked not to be named expressed concern about what to tell her grandkids when they asked what it was (Her eventual decision: “I’ll tell them the Playboy Bunny is a species of rabbit not native to our area”).

Lauren Klotzman from Hyperallergic, a popular contemporary arts blog, reported the story, which was then published on Salon.com and Huffington Post. Klotzman named Neville Wakefield as the alleged curator responsible for the project.

 ”It’s worth noting that Wakefield is no stranger to Marfa, he curated Ballroom Marfa’s Auto Body exhibition that was on view from September 30, 2011 to February 12, 2012, and he is also the creative director of Playboy’s Special Projects division — his coming out party last month was featured in the New York Times’ T Magazine.”

Big Bend Sentinel confirms Wakefield’s involvement.

“According to Presidio County Judge Paul Hunt’s office, writer, curator and artist Neville Wakefield is working on the temporary installation. The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter identify Wakefield, who was the curator for a Ballroom Marfa exhibition in 2011, as Playboy’s new creative director of special projects. Wakefield’s staff did not respond to questions.”

Ballroom Marfa told Marfa Public Radio they had no involvement in the project and also stated that in a blog post on their website (edits are Ballroom Marfa’s).

“While the Playboy installation is apparently (update!) supported by Art Production Fund and(new update! no Art Production Fund involvement! Despite rumors!) curated by Neville Wakefield, Playboy’s Creative Director of Special Projects — who was also the curator of Ballroom’s 2011 AutoBody exhibition — it should be said that Ballroom has no direct connection to the installation.”

On June 16, Marfa Public Radio’s Alice Quinlan interviewed Joe Arenella about the project. Arenella is a sales rep for Ion Art, the Austin-based neon and metal fabrication company that completed the sign for Playboy Enterprises. According to Arenella, the neon sign was designed, engineered and fabricated by designer Kris Wu, Ion art owner and fabricator Greg Keshishian and a team from Ion Art.

Quinlan also asked Arenella about the project’s intention.

“When asked if he was aware of a particular intention behind the project, Arenella said, “Apparently Playboy is using it for some kind of marketing campaign. They are going to hold events out there in the desert and shoot film. Matter of fact, I don’t know if its next issue or the one after, but the sign is going on the front cover of Playboy Magazine.”

Quinlan also put her ear to the ground for community reactions for Marfa Public Radio, and NewsWest 9 interviewed General Manager Tom Michael about what he’d heard from are residents.

But two big questions still aren’t answered: “why?” and “why here?” We’ll probably have those answers soon. Update: Playboy explains the installation to the New York Times! Playboy reps have also agreed to give local Big Bend media interviews at the end of the month now that the New York Times has published the story.

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