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What is Playboy Doing in Marfa?

Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun, the first Mexician-American to be given the title, poses for Playboy Creative Director Landis Smithers at Playboy Marfa (Photo by James Rodewald).

By Alice Quinlan

Over the past week, few details have emerged concerning the 40-foot high neon Playboy bunny sign that is temporarily installed west of Marfa on Highway 90. It's been confirmed that Playboy's Creative Director Landis Smithers and Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun were on site in Marfa this past week. However, there are still more questions than answers surrounding the project.

KRTS spoke with Joe Arenella, a sales rep for Ion Art, an Austin-based neon and metal fabrication company, who completed the neon bunny sign for Playboy Enterprises. Arenella shed some light on the project.

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. Playboy instructed the company to build a large see-through bunny logo out of neon, but left the details up to them. The team wasn't aware of any other components of the piece – the car or askew concrete box - and Arenella doesn't know of a specific artist outside of Ion Art connected to the piece. Our sources confirm that the artist is believed to be Richard Phillips, best known for his hyper-realistic paintings. After a week of design work, the bunny was manufactured in 18 days.

Asked about the seeming secrecy surrounding the project, Arenella clarified that although the company often signs non-disclosure agreements for companies who “don't want it known that they are coming into a community”, they did not sign an NDA for Playboy.

In fact, the night before the sculpture left Austin for Marfa, Ion Art held a community event, even putting notices in the local newspaper and business journal. Attendees took pictures in front of the sign wearing bunny ears. Playboy was aware of the event.

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.”

Part of the marketing campaign, Arenella added, is a webcam installed at the site that would broadcast a live feed of the piece. Arenella believes that part of the intention of the web cam is to record people's reactions to the piece.

So what does Arenella think of the installation? “It's an interesting choice of place to put a forty-foot overall height Playboy bunny. I could see if they were doing it on the side of a freeway in Los Angeles - somewhere hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people were going to see it all the time. That's a lot of money to spend to put something in the middle of the desert for a year.”

According to sources, a "national newspaper" will run a feature on Playboy Marfa this coming Wednesday.