Shortly after last week’s incident at “Prada Marfa,” Hyperallergic interviewed Joseph Magnano, aka 9271977, the man who vandalized Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculpture in the Texas desert. Since that interview, Magnano was arrested on Tuesday “by a state trooper who learned of a criminal mischief warrant issued out of Jeff Davis County for the offense” and he was released on bail the following evening. Magnano, who studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, had moved to Waco, Texas from San Francisco to work at a local art store, according to a December 2013 article in the Baylor Lariat.
When the artwork was vandalized, I was curious why the person or people did this and what he or she was trying to say. I sensed there was a message to the action that I couldn’t decipher, so I sought out the party responsible.
The following is the interview, which was conducted with the artist over email before his arrest.
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Hrag Vartanian: Why did you choose Prada Marfa?
Joe Magnano, aka 9271977: I first visited Marfa at the end of 2013. I wanted to see what all the hype was about in that West Texas art town. Went and saw Prada Marfa, and viewed and critiqued it like any piece of art. I didn’t appreciate Prada Marfa. It seemed to portray this image of persevering the iconic, the elite, the brand. I am really interested in modernization, reorientation, and the meaning of a temporary structure. As well, watching the tourist drive up to get their picture seemed very plastic culture, amusement park like.
Getting back to my studio I began to research Prada Marfa more. It seemed that the sculpture has been having issue with TXDOT [Texas Department of Transportation] as an illegal roadside advertisement. Which led to some brainstorming. Further investigation about other vandalism and the initial purpose of the Prada project, seemed that the true vision of allowing it to decay wasn’t living up. Nor is it living up to its time, which is 2014. I see a sculpture like “Prada Marfa,” keeps society compressed into a certain reality, which isn’t necessarily true. I mean, who wants to be defined by consumerism and branding. I sure the hell don’t, so I wanted to test and reorientate the meaning of Prada Marfa.
This TOMS project didn’t really come into inception until about a little over a month ago. Originally, I wanted to paint the whole thing in rainbow colors, because of all the anti-gay bigotry taking place, but that would have taken too much paint and tanks. As well, I was concerned about the colors getting muddy.
The TOMS project seemed much more suitable with direct reasoning instead of so called “vandalism” of just painting the place. With all the buzz about saving Prada Marfa, it was guaranteed reaction.
HV: I’m guessing you’re not a fan of Elmgreen and Dragset’s Powerless Structures series, which has often been inserting types of spaces — usually through interventions — into new contexts of meaning. Are you familiar with the other works in the series?
JM: No, I’m not familiar with any of their work. I didn’t even know they made “Prada Marfa” until I researched it. Using “Prada Marfa” as a canvas was not in anyway an attack on the artists. In fact, I am grateful they created “Prada Marfa,” because without it, TOMS Marfa couldn’t have temporarily existed. I have seen Elmgreen & Dragset’s rocking horse piece. I have no idea [what] its pure meaning [is] but imagine it has something to do with the mindset of our controlling ‘adult’ figures, tearing through this world like a bunch of kids on rocking horses. At least that’s my distant interpretation. Other than that, they seem to make Western-conscience art.
HV: Can you explain “Western conscience art”? I’m not sure I understand what you may mean.
JM: Oh, that is so infinite in definition, it would be like trying to define a microcosm that you assumed didn’t change. The gist of Western conscience art would be that of western expanded history, theories, politics, religion, social compacts, etc.
HV: Do you consider your art non-Western?
JM: I’m a product of my surroundings, so my art is definitely going to have Western influences and reactions. The West is my closest audience. Though through the art making and growth process, I pursue a balanced universal and global perspective, that I hope influences the West, to be better human beings and more ethical in their practices in the global community which is why TOMS was picked as the focal point of this project.
HV: Can you tell me why you chose TOMS specifically? I initially wondered why you didn’t target Prada.
JM: Well, back in September I had the opportunity to help a friend with their business. We sold TOMS at a Mary Kay convention in Dallas. Hundreds of pairs of shoes were sold daily; being purchased by these fanatical women caked in make-up and dressed in clothes that resembled table cloths and garnished in cheap made in China jewelry. It was fanatical. Women would get hysterical if we didn’t have their size of TOMS. They would buy multiple pairs just to have them. They bragged about how many pairs they had. Like it was a competition. And most of them thought they were saving the world through their purchases. I have never seen such chaos for a pair of shoes.
A friend and I got [the idea for] a joke from these women’s behavior and the idea of TOMS. We wondered the environmental impact of TOMS. We could imagine a pair of TOMS being stuck in the throat of a hippopotamus in some jungle region. TOMS, floating down the Amazon. We wondered if the people getting free TOMS even used them as shoes. Perhaps TOMS were used as hermit crab catchers or a tool holder.
I learned more about TOMS through my friend’s business, located in predominantly a conservative Christian region. Many of the local young people, full of brilliance, and a bit dumbfounded to the real world, would come in looking for their TOMS. Personally, I wasn’t buying the hype. I wasn’t sold on the concept, ONE FOR ONE. I’m not sold on the idea of helping others through consumerism. I am not sold on the idea of outsourcing production to China with cheap labor. It’s not my vision of the globe or America, as an America-born artist.
I didn’t target Prada because Prada is so 2005. Prada is too high-end for the majority of Americans. TOMS isn’t though. TOMS fits the mainstream bill … considering all the austerity and cooperate governing that takes place; America seems to have become more of a TOMS brand, instead of Prada.
HV: Can you explain what you did at Prada Marfa and the various sentences, blue paint, banners, and the sun-like sculpture on the ground?
MJ: Well, if were talking about assembly and the night of production … it was rainy and windy. I assumed the cameras were working so I got out of the car with a ski mask on and sprayed it down. Once that took place and I secured the location, I guided my partners whom were driving with no lights with a flashlight to the back of the building to continue with the operation. All the giant billboards were ergonomically sized and cut for quick placement. We took to hand the billboards with some quick bonding Loctite, securing it in place with duct tape. Next phase was to place “take one” boxes with the artist statement. Finish up with the plaque and the banners. The banners which were a pain in the ass, because it was raining and we had to watch for traffic hanging the things with zip ties. Each banner had five Bibles, so they weren’t too light. After that it was time to finish the paint job. The paint tanks that had the imagery of the three stooges we took to Marfa and left in front of Eugene Binder Gallery, as a souvenir to him.
[Editor’s note: There is a more complete explanation with images on Magnano’s website.]
HV: Will there be any other actions? Is this the first? And how do you identify yourself to others?
MJ: … Well if actions mean more art, for sure. For this particular project, postcards were made as well, and we took a trip to TOMS flag ship store in Venice and posted up posters. You know, life needs questioning, and it’s the job of the artist (or at least the artist I want to be), you got to do your best to tear away the fabric of time, otherwise things become too systemic. Before you know it, we’ll begin thinking the world is flat again.
Art making is interesting, and the reactions it gets is wild. I once did a project in San Francisco that addressed the abuse of feminism and male victimization, which drove the neighborhood crazy. People wanted it removed. So, I then turned the project into something about homogenization and gentrification. Projects like this just call and are spontaneous. A bit out of my comfort zone to make work like this, considering my age, but life isn’t just about being comfortable. I hope those that see the purpose behind this last project appreciate it.