Update, Friday, April 8: It appears the West Texas Buc-ee’s is no more. An Instagram post by @txtroublemaker shows that the logo and name have been removed from the building. The anonymous artist tells Texas Monthly that he doesn’t know more, adding cheekily, “I assume the shift to e-commerce and higher gas prices probably forced it to close.”
Twenty miles east of Marathon, along U.S. 90 toward Sanderson, a miniature Buc-ee’s has appeared in the desert. Photos of the building began popping up on Instagram this week, beginning with a post by artist Matt Tumlinson on April 3, and drawing comparisons to the tiny Target installation that once sat thirty miles to the west. That piece, perceived as an everyman’s response to the Prada installation outside Marfa, was demolished in 2020 due to structural concerns about the building. Locals were sorry to see it go, with Terlingua resident Shawna Marie Graves expressing hope that a new artwork might appear to represent the “good-natured prankster” energy of Marathon.
Somewhere in West Texas, an artist heard the call. So far, that person has chosen to remain anonymous, just as the Target’s creator did. Corresponding with Texas Monthly via Instagram, they cited concerns over “trespassing laws and the litigious nature of Buc-ee’s.” The artist described the new piece as “a light-hearted jab at the self-important Prada store crowd and another light-hearted jab at Walmart/gas station hybrids and America’s propensity for ever-expanding excess.”
The artist may have good reason to be hesitant about coming forward. Buc-ee’s has a well-documented history of litigating out-of-turn uses of its name and logo. Just last year, the company sued a Texas gas station for using the name “Buky’s” and a logo that was suspiciously similar to that of the better-known brand.
So what does the beaver think this time? “Buc-ee’s just recently became aware of the Buc-ee’s art installation in West rural Texas,” said Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for the brand, in an emailed statement. “While we have not visited the site, we do wonder whether they are keeping up with Buc-ee’s meticulous 24×7 bathroom-cleaning standards.” Nadalo did not comment on whether the brand will pursue legal action.
Texans, meanwhile, have largely responded to the new Buc-ee’s piece with delight. Several Instagram commenters on Tumlinson’s initial post vowed to stop by and check the piece out on their next trip west. Others celebrated the first West Texas Buc-ee’s location, even if the structure doesn’t actually sell Beaver Nuggets, smokers, or gas. The company has expanded east in recent years, opening stations in North Carolina and Florida. But no (official) location exists west of San Antonio, despite the long, empty stretches of highway, where many a road-tripping Texan has resorted to pulling over in an isolated spot when nature calls.
The Buc-ee’s installation, like the tiny Target before it, playfully riffs on the Prada Marfa structure just down the road. That original art piece, the 2005 creation of artistic duo Elmgreen and Dragset, was itself meant to parody commerce. “Maybe today it has become so famous that it is actually good for [Prada] to have it there, but it was meant as a critique of the luxury goods industry,” Michael Elmgreen told Texas Monthly in 2013.
The wit and humor of the Buc-ee’s sculpture come from making a similar statement, but with a thoroughly Texan symbol of over-the-top consumerism. Buc-ee’s, of course, is the very picture of Lone Star excess, with its snack largesse, rows upon rows of gas pumps, absurdly large bathrooms, and, at the Katy location, the world’s longest car wash. Other than the new installation, there’s no scenario in which the word “tiny” would ever be associated with the brand.
Like Prada Marfa and Target Marathon before it, the installation, should it remain, seems destined to be a pilgrimage site for the selfie-snapping masses. Still, there’s something irreverent, tongue-in-cheek, and decisively Texan about the new piece, even if it’s mostly just Instagram fodder. Art appreciators seeking a true renunciation of influencer culture might instead look to the ghost town of Lobo, where a mural by Matt Tumlinson, the inaugural poster of the Buc-ee’s building, has a message for travelers. It reads: “Keep the Lonely Places Lonely.”