What Is Art?

Can a bunny in the desert tell us?

November 2013By Comments

Playboy Marfa at sunset.
Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

It was mid-April when Judge Paul Hunt’s office received the first call. The judge was at his desk inside the Presidio County courthouse, a pink stucco building with a mansard roof and cupola that sits at the end of Marfa’s Highland Avenue. His assistant answered the phone. On the line was a young woman from New York, who inquired politely about West Texas’s idiosyncratic building laws. What were the lighting regulations in the area? How might she get approval for new electrical service? Two days later, another New Yorker, just as polite, began ringing with similar questions. She and the first caller, she explained, were working on behalf of someone interested in installing something along U.S. 90. When she was reluctant to offer specifics over the phone, the assistant suggested she present the blueprints in person.

Three weeks later, the two women arrived in Marfa. Pretty and smartly dressed, “they had that eager intern vibe,” the judge recalled later. “And they had done their homework.” By now they had read up on the local Dark Skies Initiative limiting light pollution, and they had filled out the certificate of compliance required for new electrical service near the border. They’d also brought an artist’s rendering of their project; one mile outside town, on 6,500 square feet of land leased from longtime kindergarten teacher Sheri Eppenauer and her husband, Bob, they planned to build an art installation.

The judge was hardly surprised. After sculptor Donald Judd startled the art world in the seventies by leaving Manhattan for this faraway corner of the Chihuahuan Desert, Marfa had become a kind of pilgrimage site. On a former Army base at the edge of town, Judd established the Chinati Foundation, a museum dedicated to large-scale, permanent installations, such as his own concrete and aluminum boxes, which drew visitors from around the world. Over time, locals had grown used to German art critics descending on the Dairy Queen or black-clad L.A. architects raving about the light. In the past decade, more and more of the pilgrims had started moving to town for good. Wealthy Texans from the big cities now kept second (or third) homes there; Tim Crowley, a lawyer from Houston, and his wife, Lynn Goode, had bought and restored more than a dozen buildings in town, encouraging posh friends such as renowned defense attorney Dick DeGuerin to do the same. Walking up Highland Avenue these days, past the neon sign of one of the smallest NPR affiliates in America, past the plate-glass windows of the Marfa Book Company, past the vintage-television display at Future Shark Cafeteria, a Marfan might encounter any number of painters, sculptors, musicians, and poets. He might bump into writer Deborah Eisenberg, on a fellowship with the Lannan Foundation, at the Hotel Paisano, or Jake Gyllenhaal, in town for a Railroad Revival Tour concert, tossing a football on the street. Even Beyoncé had visited, staying in one of the restored trailers at the campground and hotel El Cosmico.

The location of the project that the women were proposing—west of town on U.S. 90—immediately reminded Hunt of Prada Marfa. Back in 2005, the Scandinavian art duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset had caused a flap by displaying six Prada bags and twenty Prada shoes (rights only) in a glass-front adobe located about thirty miles farther down the highway, near Valentine. Though the artists intended their piece as a critique of consumer culture, many in Marfa decried it as plop art, arguing that it exploited the town’s reputation and marred the landscape. The piece was supposed to naturally decay, but two days after it went up, someone sprayed “Dum Dum” across the front and stole all the purses and fourteen of the shoes. Others riddled the installation with bullets. While the merchandise was restocked and the windows replaced with Plexiglas, eight years later graffiti still covered the back and cigarette burns perforated the awnings.

So the judge was curious to see the women’s plans. They showed him the rendering, which portrayed a 1972 Dodge Charger, painted matte black, on top of a concrete box—just like one of Judd’s—that was tilted forward, as if the Southern Pacific train that runs through Marfa had snaked off its tracks and rammed into it. Just behind the concrete plinth and car, a twenty-foot rabbit head outlined in neon light stood atop a tall pole, like a novelty lollipop. Except it wasn’t just any rabbit. It wore a bow tie and was distinctly recognizable. It was the Playboy bunny.

The work was by artist Richard Phillips, the women explained. He was a hot commodity: he had recently exhibited video portraits of Lindsay Lohan and adult film star Sasha Grey at the Gagosian Gallery, in New York. The judge studied the rendering. To his eye, there were at least three jokes in it. In addition to the play on the Judd box, the Charger seemed to be an allusion to John Chamberlain, an artist whose signature material was old cars; an entire building of the Chinati Foundation was dedicated to his crumpled forms. And the bunny’s lighting evoked Dan Flavin, a close friend of Judd’s who worked with fluorescent tubes and whose most ambitious effort with them was housed at the Chinati as well.

“So what do you think?” the women asked eagerly.

Hunt leaned back in his leather chair and took a long sigh. “This will be a target of vandalism,” he said.

The next day, when the judge read the signatures on the certificate of compliance and realized who the owner of the piece was—Playboy Enterprises—he understood that the installation would be a target of much more than that.

If you know much about Marfa these days, chances are you read about it in the Wall Street Journal or Vanity Fair, or heard about it on NPR, or saw it featured on CNN. In the past decade, the town of two thousand has been showered with breathless press. The New York Times wrote about it at least half a dozen times in three years, the Smithsonian recently named it one of the top twenty small towns in America, and 60 Minutes ran a segment this year titled “Marfa, Texas: The Capital of Quirkiness.” NPR, meanwhile, hailed it as “nothing less than an arts-world station of the cross.”

The vast majority of those stories tend to ignore most of Marfa’s residents. Despite all the hipsters, Marfa remains a working-class town, where unemployment hovers at around 9 percent and the median household income is $33,000 per year. Three quarters of the population is Hispanic. To some extent, the prosperity of the arts community—which involves around 10 percent of the people who live there—masks the economic difficulties of the majority. Other than tourism and government, there’s no principal industry in Marfa. The public schools, the state agencies, and the Border Patrol are the main employers. The town has no pharmacy, no locksmith, and no vet. For all the attention, it remains a fundamentally austere and remote place.

Which is what attracted Judd to begin with. Disenchanted with what he called the “glib situation within art” in New York, he decided in 1971 to go looking for the kind of space where he could exhibit art in a way that wasn’t dictated by museums. To choose his new location, he drew circles on a map around the least populated swaths of land in the United States; at the center of one of the biggest circles was Marfa. Founded in 1883 as a water stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad, Marfa had enjoyed a brief heyday as a cattle baron town before serving as a military base during the Mexican Revolution and later as the site of Fort D. A. Russell. But the fort was shuttered in 1946, and a drought followed in the fifties, so that all that remained when Judd arrived was a tiny hamlet of ranchers, cowboys, and crumbling adobes.

That, and a gloriously empty landscape. Parched yellow grass stretched in every direction, bordered by mountains so distant they looked like purple paintings on silk. Clouds loomed large and still in the giant sky, as if they had so much space they needn’t move. Captivated, Judd promptly began buying tracts of land, including the grounds of the old Army base; he would amass more than 100,000 acres over twenty years. He began his fifteen outdoor works in concrete in 1980, and in 1986 he opened the Chinati Foundation, using renovated artillery sheds as exhibition space for one hundred of his aluminum boxes.

Though he kept to himself, Judd was deeply committed to the local environment and became one of the town’s biggest employers, hiring laborers to pour his concrete slabs and assemble them into geometrically sequenced boxes. For Judd, art that did not consider its surroundings was an imposition. He is often called a minimalist, a term he hated; contemporary art, he felt, should not be representative (as in a portrait or a scene) or serve as a metaphor for something else (like an emotion or a moment) but rather be truth itself, and intrinsic to that truth was context. “My first and largest interest is in relation to the natural world,” he wrote. That conviction was perhaps lost on some of the locals, who thought Judd’s boxes looked like antelope shelters. His rebellion against the artificial context and power of museums, however, did appeal to other artists, such as Flavin, who designed eight-foot-long fluorescent grates for six of Chinati’s U-shaped sheds.

Judd likely never envisioned Marfa as a fashionable art scene—and he almost certainly would have disliked that outcome. But his ideas left such an imprint that today, almost twenty years after his death, art and its meaning is a regular topic of debate around town, though not always in predictable ways. Many residents, for example, have yet to forget an incident in 2003, when the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus designed two billboards with a Madonna-and-child image and the words “Consider Life” and placed them alongside U.S. 67/90. Not long afterward, someone complained that the signs violated the Highway Beautification Act, a law passed in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson to limit outdoor advertising along interstate and federal-aid highways. (The law allows signs outside commercial zones only if they are on the premises of the business they promote.) When the Texas Department of Transportation ordered the signs removed, discussions erupted over whether the images had been unduly subjected to a scrutiny rarely given to the art at, say, the Ballroom Marfa gallery, which soon after hosted an exhibit that included a video of bare-chested women kissing. 

Two years later, emotions ran just as high over Prada Marfa, not only because the installation was plopped onto the landscape that Judd had prized but also because its allusion to high fashion seemed utterly tone-deaf to the economic reality of the town. Former resident Melissa Keane remembered the opening on October 1, 2005: “The area ranchers stood in denim and cowboy boots beside New Yorkers dressed up to their necks in black, saying things like, ‘Isn’t it sad that it’s out in the middle of nowhere?’ ”

So perhaps it was inevitable that, at the end of May, after Judge Hunt passed around the artist’s rendering of the Playboy installation during a break in the commissioner’s court meeting, the piece would become huge news. When Big Bend Sentinel reporter Alberto Halpern called Playboy to ask about it, however, the company refused to comment. “But you can’t ignore this forty-foot structure coming to your backyard,” Halpern told me. After looking into a trail of public documents, he broke the news of the patron’s identity on May 30 in a story that quickly went viral. “Playboy to Erect Sculpture Near Marfa,” read the headline, the first of many puns. Constructed in Austin, the rabbit appeared a few days later, hitched to a white pickup, an ear almost scraping the pavement. 

Dick DeGuerin, a subscriber to the Sentinel, was at home in Houston when he read the news. A week later, the lawyer was flying his Cessna back from a spa day with his daughter in Mexico and decided to stop in Marfa for a Jimmie Dale Gilmore concert. The bunny, which had gone up in a matter of days, was all anyone could talk about. Some people got a kick out of it: there was Bob Wright, the white-mustachioed owner of Marfa Realty, who had initially put Playboy in touch with six area landowners, and Ty Mitchell, a rakish cowboy who’d had a part in True Grit and helped persuade the Eppenauers to lease their land. (Though Sheri had twice rejected the lease, when Playboy allegedly tripled its first offering, to $20,000 for twelve months, she sought the permission of her preacher and the school principal before signing.) Some ropers and mechanics expressed excitement, and a few creative types, such as Marfa Film Festival director Robin Lambaria, thought it made a funny contrast to the town’s serious art scene. 

DeGuerin and his daughter bicycled from their adobe, just a couple of blocks from the courthouse, to the plot on U.S. 90. Playboy still wasn’t acknowledging anything, but as the two crested a hill, there it was: the bunny, the concrete box, and what appeared to be the Charger sitting beneath a plastic sheet. Delighted, DeGuerin hopped off his bike and struck a yoga pose as his daughter took a picture. “Even though Playboy has its own agenda, I loved the fact that someone with some bucks was putting something there,” DeGuerin told me. 

There were others, however, who were furious. The sign was a corporate intrusion, said some. It branded the West Texas sky with a logo, and a misogynistic one at that. Others felt the installation mocked Judd’s art—the very art that had put Marfa on the map in the first place. “I like titties and I like Playboy, but I don’t like bad art,” one thirtysomething musician told me. “You can’t make bad art in a place just because it has an art connotation.” Artist Julie Speed designed bumper stickers with a bunny in crosshairs, which sold out at the Marfa Book Company. Marianne Stockebrand, the former director of the Chinati Foundation and Judd’s partner for the last five years of his life, penned a letter to the Sentinel. “What a lousy piggybacking,” she wrote. “Not even respect for the landscape, Marfa’s greatest treasure.” As another arts elder said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, “People in the community who take art and art-making seriously are stung by the speed, the sloppiness, and the lack of respect.”

Indeed, Playboy seemed to be going out of its way to provoke ill will. Claiming that the Sentinel piece was “ruining the integrity” of the project, the company’s PR firm called Halpern to ask if he would remove his article online. (It turned out Playboy had negotiated an exclusive with the New York Times.) Halpern declined. A week or so later, when Playboy representatives finally agreed to speak to the Sentinel, they explained that the installation, dubbed Playboy Marfa, was part of an effort to revitalize the company brand (“Playboy Reveals All About Installation,” read the headline). Playboy had named Neville Wakefield, a New York critic and curator who had organized a successful show at Ballroom Marfa in 2011, its new creative director of special projects, and Wakefield had tapped Richard Phillips, according to one press release, to help reenergize Playboy’s “alignment with the art world.” 

The explanation, over a phone call from New York, did little to help the company’s image on the ground. “They should have hosted something for the community, to acknowledge that they dropped a huge billboard in our backyard,” noted one resident. Playboy had not relied on any locals to install the piece—an affront all the more galling because it had initially reached out to a few of the town’s artists and laborers, only to go silent. (Welder William Parrott said he’d spent more than thirty hours procuring a 1972 Dodge Charger when Playboy stopped responding to his calls.) As for remaking its image, well, that seemed ludicrous. “The magazine exploits women,” said former city council member Maria Williams, who refused to go see the installation. “It’s against my principles as a Christian, a Catholic, a human being.” Leo Salgado, a former city bookkeeper, didn’t understand how a Playboy symbol could stand when the Knights of Columbus billboards, which he’d helped design, had been taken down. One parent was especially vocal. “It’s disgusting,” she said, standing in the post office. “The devil is bringing all this, so let’s say no to the devil.”

Most maddening of all, perhaps, was a feeling of powerlessness. Playboy had asked no one in Marfa for input. The work was designed from afar—Phillips had never even visited—and executed without the artist’s presence or accountability. On June 12 Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun arrived for a dawn video shoot at Playboy Marfa; a week later, the installation had an opening—two thousand miles away, at the Standard Hotel on Manhattan’s High Line. “It was great,” Wakefield told me later. “There were Playmates there, and the most unlikely people—art-world people—were drawn to their magnetism.” [Read the full interview with Neville Wakefield here.] Phillips also enjoyed the evening, though he acknowledged its unusual nature. “You know,” he noted, “it’s the first time I’ve done an off-site opening.”

The only fest Marfans were privy to was the media fest, as reporters called from all over the country to ask about a work the townspeople knew nothing about. “Playboy demonstrates their power in the world, which is a financial power, by putting this here,” said Tim Johnson, a poet and the owner of the Marfa Book Company. “And then the people who live here are made responsible for answering for it, which is not something any of us asked for.” 

One of those who felt exploited was Lineaus Lorette, an accountant, leatherworker, and self-professed communist who moved to Fort Davis in 1991 and opened an office in Marfa to house his peculiar collections, which include mid-century-modern lamps and leftist pyrographic wood reliefs. He is known for his hand-sewn leather medicine balls, sold to the likes of Mick Jagger and Harrison Ford, but even more so for being a quixotic rabble-rouser. (In 2000 he ran for mayor and got 24 votes.) Lorette thought Playboy Marfa was rather handsome—he wasn’t one for Judd’s minimalism, which he found elitist—but he believed the neon bunny, much like the Knights of Columbus billboards, qualified as illegal advertising. Aware of his reputation as an agitator, however, he had resolved not to say anything.

That is until June 24, when he was scheduled to report for jury duty. It was a Monday, and Lorette wasn’t due at the courthouse until ten o’clock. So he drove over to Marfa’s TxDOT office to kill some time. What, he asked the clerk, might one need to do to bring an illegal sign to TxDOT’s attention? The clerk was friendly and asked if the sign had a permit posted to it. Lorette drove out to the bunny, observed that it didn’t, and drove back to the office, where the clerk walked him through filing a complaint online. Lorette hit submit and was at the courthouse by ten.

Three days later, Lorette received a letter in the mail from TxDOT’s Right of Way Management Division, in Austin. “It was determined that the sign is indeed an illegal sign,” it stated. “We are handling it through our process for addressing illegal signs.” Lorette drove the letter over to the offices of the Sentinel. TxDOT had also issued another letter, to the Eppenauers. It was an order of removal. They had 45 days to get rid of the bunny. 

Maria Williams was eating enchiladas at Mando’s, a Tex-Mex joint, when she saw Lorette being interviewed on Channel 9 about the order of removal. She was thrilled. “Lineaus knows the law,” she thought with admiration. Leo Salgado read about it in the Sentinel and was one of the first to congratulate Lorette at the post office. A woman stopped Lorette in town to shake his hand, and when he delivered his usual two buckets of flowers to St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Saturday afternoon, one of the nuns told him how grateful she was. The head of Marfa Magazine and one mechanic did stop by his house to ask that he withdraw his complaint, but mostly Lorette was seen as a hero. “God Bless Lineaus Lorette,” read a letter to the Sentinel. 

The news went national. “Playboy Sculpture in Marfa Has Texas Highway Officials Hot and Bothered,” wrote the Huffington Post. “How Playboy Pissed Off an Artsy West Texas Town,” read Jalopnik.com. The story was picked up by ABC, NPR, network affiliates across the state, and any blog attuned to pun potential. Many, like the installation’s nearest neighbor, actor and director Barry Tubb, who lived in an Airstream one hundred yards away, thought the controversy was “accidental genius marketing.” What had started as a rebranding effort was garnering more publicity than Playboy could have hoped.

As soon as DeGuerin saw “Playboy Bunny Sign Must Go” in the Sentinel, he knew he had to step in. He had once defended Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade against a similar illegal-signage charge in Houston, though the fate of Wade’s controversial sixty-foot saxophone sculpture outside Billy Blues jazz club was eventually resolved in a city council meeting. (It was allowed to stay.) DeGuerin showed up at the Marfa Realty office and offered his legal services to those responsible for the installation. Shortly after, he received a copy of the order of removal from Sheri Eppenauer. It was dated June 21, three days before Lorette had filed his complaint. Though every news outlet had attributed TxDOT’s ruling to Lorette, it turned out that the agency had arrived at the conclusion on its own. Alpine-area TxDOT engineer Christopher Weber had learned of the new electrical line approved a mile outside Marfa, and when he saw in the Sentinel what it was for, he had immediately questioned the installation’s use of a logo. 

Playboy partnered with DeGuerin. When the company refused to comment publicly, the lawyer launched his own campaign, affably debating the sculpture’s merits around town. In response to the bunny-in-crosshairs bumper stickers, he suggested “Save the Bunny” T-shirts. “If there’s some stupid-ass regulation that interferes with freedom of expression, then guess what has to yield?” DeGuerin said. “That stupid-ass regulation.”

But was Playboy Marfa creative expression or crass commercialism? The debate over art versus advertising has consumed artists and critics for decades. Andy Warhol brought it to a head in 1962 with his paintings of Campbell’s soup cans; a few years later, critic Marshall McLuhan proclaimed that “art is anything you can get away with.” In the eighties artist Richard Prince got away with photographing and enlarging Marlboro’s cowboy ads; in the nineties Chinese artist Ai Weiwei got away with making ceramic vases with the Coca-Cola logo.

Could Playboy get away with this? That Warhol’s cans hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Prince’s photos hung at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles changed how a viewer experienced them. They were art by virtue of context. Was Marfa now such a context? Even if it was, something about the power dynamic felt different: MoMA had chosen Warhol, but Marfa had not chosen Playboy. 

“If you say the word ‘art,’ then we must deal with it as art,” Tim Johnson reasoned in his bookstore. “That doesn’t mean it’s good art.” Phillips told me that he had been commissioned to do “corporate portraiture,” and Playboy’s image “was resolved in the illuminated bunny.” [Read the full interview here.] But in a column for the Sentinel, Fort Davis historian Lonn Taylor was blunt: “It prominently displays Playboy’s corporate logo, it was paid for by Playboy Enterprises, and it was designed and erected by an employee of that company. Ergo, it is advertising.” He sarcastically suggested building a corporate sculpture garden between Marfa and Valentine, an idea that DeGuerin relayed to Daddy-O Wade, who thought it was brilliant. (Wade had long dreamed of creating “Logo Park.”)

TxDOT officials were the first to admit they weren’t art critics. The department was not “in a position to approve or disprove [sic] of any art,” one of them wrote to me in an email. But they were beholden to the law, which defined an advertising sign in Title 43 of the Texas administrative code as “an object that is designed, intended, or used to advertise or inform, including a sign, display, light, device, figure, painting, drawing, message, plaque, placard, poster, billboard, logo, or symbol.” Playboy’s logo was advertising. And because it sat on U.S. 90 and was ineligible for a permit, it violated the Highway Beautification Act.

DeGuerin was not dissuaded. “Frankly,” he said, “I think it makes the highway beautiful.” He helped Playboy form a legal team, including Alpine defense attorney Kirk Meade and Austin lawyer Ace Pickens, who requested a meeting between Playboy and TxDOT, so that Phillips could explain his work. At nine-thirty in the morning on August 6, at the Right of Way Management Division library in Austin, Phillips, who had flown in from New York, passed around a handout to the nine people who had gathered. They included Pickens, Playboy executive and general counsel Rachel Sagan, TxDOT outdoor advertising supervisor Wendy Knox, and assistant attorney general Oren Connaway. (Perhaps due to his vocal advocacy efforts, DeGuerin was not present.) The handout included a section titled “Inspiration,” with images from the Chinati—Judd’s boxes, Flavin’s lights, Chamberlain’s cars—and of Phillips’ studio modeling of Playboy Marfa (a binder clip holding a pencil with the bunny logo; a toy car on a little box). The section titled “Installation” offered glamour shots of the completed project: at sunset, at night, after a storm, framed by a double rainbow. It included Phillips’s biography, highlighting his work for MAC Cosmetics, Gossip Girl, and the Art Production Fund, which, in collaboration with Ballroom Marfa, had produced Prada Marfa

The officials at TxDOT were unmoved. A month later they issued a new order, dated September 3, to remove the bunny within 45 days. Playboy could get a 60-day extension, but if the installation wasn’t gone by December 23, the case would be referred to Texas attorney general Greg Abbott’s office. The Playboy bunny had to go. 

What few had considered in the uproar over the bunny were the implications for other works of art in town. As TxDOT representatives discussed Playboy’s logo, their conversation turned to the other trademark on U.S. 90: Prada Marfa. Didn’t its awnings constitute advertising too? (The Alpine engineer who first flagged Playboy Marfa, in fact, had raised concerns about Prada at the same time.) Suspecting that Playboy would reference Prada to make its own case, TxDOT official Gus Cannon consulted with the Federal Highway Administration before confirming his agency’s position: yes, Prada Marfa was outdoor advertising.

The debate over what is and isn’t art exploded once more—this time with farther reach. “If they want to go to court, I will be able to teach them some lessons in art history,” said the installation’s co-creator Michael Elmgreen from London. “There’s a difference between being commissioned by a company to do something and use their logo and using their logo on your own.” (Prada permitted the use of its logo and provided the merchandise but did not fund the piece.) [Read the full interview with Michael Elmgreen here.] 

DeGuerin shrugged this off as “a distinction without a difference,” but others disagreed. “Dick DeGuerin wants us to team up with Playboy,” said Ballroom Marfa executive director Fairfax Dorn, who helped bring Prada Marfa to town. “But there’s no reason to, because we’re a completely different project.” A Save Prada Marfa group appeared on Facebook, quickly garnering more than six thousand likes, and Democratic representative Poncho Nevarez, of Eagle Pass, wrote a public letter to TxDOT in support of the installation.

By early October, the agency had not yet issued an order of removal, which made the demise of Prada Marfa seem unlikely; perhaps, some theorized, TxDOT would simply require the awnings, which stretched illegally over the highway’s shoulder, to be adjusted, or perhaps the agency would find a way to extend a pardon. Meanwhile, up the road, the bunny continued to light the sky. Residents expected Playboy to broker a new agreement with TxDOT before its December deadline, though no one could guess the outcome. Would Phillips alter the logo, or would Playboy give up? Earlier in the summer, the company had announced that there would be a “phase two” to its art efforts before year’s end, involving another Dodge Charger and “definitely not” in Marfa; maybe now it would make a big show of relocating Playboy Marfa and unveiling this second work at the same time. Phillips, at last, planned his first visit to Marfa for a television segment, but then filming—and his trip—was postponed. 

Around Marfa, emotions remained raw. Lorette still felt indignant over how DeGuerin had visited him at the end of the summer to tell him that the bunny paid homage to the Chinati artists, not realizing that Lorette found minimalism pretentious. Irate, Lorette had written an open letter and mailed it to thirty newspapers, denouncing TxDOT for allowing a corporation “to market its smut and sexism” in defiance of the law. If the agency didn’t take action, he told me, he would threaten to sue. A few days later, Lorette ran into the Chinati’s associate director, Rob Weiner, who was also angry. Lorette’s moralistic tirades, he said, had weakened the pure advertising argument against the sign. Further, Lorette himself had erotic art in his house, which made him a hypocrite. “It was really hurtful,” Lorette told me later. “But that’s part of the argument. This isn’t Wonder Bread.” Some Marfans, however, were beset with bunny fatigue. At a fancy dinner party in town, when the table erupted in yet another debate, the host came out of the kitchen and screamed, “Stop! This is so boring,” and forbade any further talk about it.

Back at the courthouse, Judge Hunt buried himself in issues of the budget and the border. He had known the bunny would invite criticism. But he’d not anticipated the depth of reaction from the art community. “It was the jokes on the contemporary art, in fact, that seemed to cause the biggest stir,” he said. The landscape was sacred, he knew that. “But what Donald Judd did with those concrete boxes was sacred too.” 

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