A 40-foot tall neon Playboy bunny erected just outside the high desert town of Marfa, Texas, has stirred controversy among West Texas residents, with some calling the sign a work of art and others declaring it an eyesore and a marketing ploy.
The Texas Department of Transportation has ordered that Playboy's roadside artwork, called "Playboy Marfa," be removed on the grounds that Playboy did not have a Texas license for outdoor advertising, never submitted a specific permit application for the sign, and that, furthermore, the location did not qualify for a permit, according to a statement the agency released to ABC News.
Marfa Mayor Dan Dunlap said it was not surprising that Playboy would try to promote its brand in a town long known as an art mecca, adding that perhaps Playboy was trying to create a new image for itself. Playboy's website does refer to the company's trying to "reimagine the iconic brand."
"The exploitation of Playboy to try to tag on to Marfa seems to irritate a lot of people," said Dunlap. "The Texas Department of Transportation is treading a thin line here. They decided it's advertising, versus artwork, therefore, it falls into the category of signage."
Playboy could not be reached for comment over the July 4 holiday weekend, but company representatives told the El Paso Times that Playboy had not violated any laws and would try to work with the Texas Department of Transportation to resolve its concerns. PR Consulting, which represents Playboy Enterprises, told the paper its legal counsel "was looking into the matter and hoped to resolve the issue satisfactorily and as quickly as possible."
"Playboy Marfa" doesn't stand alone in the pasture along Highway 90. Designed by New York artist Richard Phillips and Playboy's creative director of special projects Neville Wakefield, it is part of a roadside installation that also includes a 1972 Dodge Charger, another American icon.
Dunlap said he suspected Playboy would fight against removing the sign.
"This is not the first time something like this happened," Dunlap said. "Prada Marfa," erected in 2005 on the same stretch of highway as "Playboy Marfa," spoofed the luxury fashion house.
"Other artists come into town to set up shop. There is other artwork that's outside city limits that is not permitted either. Personally, I don't find the sign to be offensive."