Earlier this year the mystico-quirky Big Bend-area artists' colony of Marfa got yet another roadside attraction. No, not a faux-Versace storefront to accompany the pre-existing fake Prada. This time around, it was a 40-foot-tall neon-lit outline of the Playboy bunny, standing alongside a jet-black 1972 Dodge Charger set at an angle on a pedestal.
There's been a lot of hoopla about the work, including a visit from 2013 Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun. Somewhat surprisingly given the onetime hometown of Donald Judd's appetite for oddball art, some Marfans were less-than-spellbound. They claimed that this work—by sculptor Richard Phillips, working with the approval of Playboy Enterprises—was not art at all.
One local—Lineaus Lorette—went so far as to file a complaint with the Texas Department of Transportation, claiming that Playboy Marfa was advertising, and thus subject to TxDot's permitting process and oversight.
"I thought it was a sign—a corporate logo. And in Texas you can't put up signs without permits," Lorette told the Associated Press. "I checked and it didn't have a permit so I filed a complaint."
Lorette made no objection to the bunny on aesthetic grounds. Quite the contrary..."I was really ambivalent. It's a beautifully made sign," Lorette said.
And yet: "The problem is that it's a sign. The rules have to apply to everybody."
TxDot agreed. In late June they decreed open season on the bunny—giving Phillips and Playboy 45 days to remove it from the side of Highway 90.
That August 5 deadline has been rescinded and the bunny abides (at least for now), thanks in no small part to Dick DeGuerin.
The legendary Houston defense attorney has maintaned a second home in Marfa for over 20 years. "It's just my kind of town," he recently told law.com.
And Playboy Marfa is exactly the kind of thing that makes it so, or so it would seem, as DeGuerin took up his considerable cudgel on the sign's behalf. He helped assemble a legal team that argued that the bunny, was, in fact, art and not marketing.
Putting on his best Robert Hughes face, here is how DeGuerin framed the bunny's case in Law.com.
"I'm expressing my own personal opinion. And I'm not speaking as a spokesman for Playboy. I think it's art. I think it is an expression of the artist interpretation of Marfa's art scene....Art is in the eye of the beholder. It's a trite and true expression. Art is supposed to be provocative and it's that. It's supposed to generate discussion and it's done that. And just because it's sponsored by Playboy doesn't take away from the artists' expression."
DeGuerin grants that it's corporate art, but helpfully pointed out that it is hardly alone in that regard.
"The Pope sponsored Michaelangelo," the told law.com. "How's that for a comparison?"
Playboy Marfa's future is not yet assured. DeGuerin's team of lawyers will be meeting with TxDot's lawyers in the coming weeks to determine the bunny's fate once and for all.