An Open Letter to the Art World from the Prada Marfa Vandal

by Lucia Simek March 22, 2014
Joseph Magnano

Joseph Magnano

Joseph Magnano, the Waco artist behind the recent Prada Marfa vandalism, a project he calls TOMS Marfa, has released an open letter to the art world. In it, Magnano speaks about his motivations for the project, the ensuing media blitz after its discovery and his subsequent arrest, the news of which Glasstire broke on Wednesday.

We run the letter here in its entire in hopes of shedding some light on the thinking behind the project, because whatever your opinion on the validity of art-vandalism as Art, Magnano has certainly found a very provocative way to open the discussion in regards to this particular site.

Hello My name is Joseph Magnano. I am sending out an email in regards to the incident at Prada Marfa. I recently took it upon myself to exhibit an art installation, using Prada Marfa as my canvas to install TOMS Marfa. The project was a calculated calling, an invention and idea of sorts to create a public dialog relevant to 2014. Interpreting the intended mission statement of Prada Marda, and utilizing the current legal status of the structure, being deemed as illegal roadside advertisement by the Texas Department of Transportation I took an opportunistic moment to make the structure a canvas, not in any way to destroy Prada Marfa, nor vandalize but install a piece of public art relevant to contemporary culture within our current time frame, both globally and in America.

Knowing the power of art, I was very upset to see the insisted reactions by Ballroom Marfa, to readapt their rules and bylaws towards public engagement/involvement with the piece. Art is iconoclastic. Art is representation of time and progression. Art builds the future. Art is the voice of the people; and when that dialog is censored, controlled and limited, a bigger issue becomes at hand which leads to questioning the health of the art world. Is the art world strictly becoming an environment based on idolism, faction and culture identity based on only the powers that be; so know longer individuality, transparency and progression can evolve with a new breed of artists, especially in America; because that is where the project is located. I was very upset to see the local community come to arms in quick removal of the installation, as if they wanted to hide something, protect something, keep in pristine condition; this Prada Marfa that was intended to be a piece reflecting time.

Its been brought up by Elmgreen that the act was cowardly vanity. There was nothing cowardly about it. Doing that piece was out of my comfort zone, but it needed to happen. Like I said, it was calculated. Of course I knew the installation would attract mass hype. Vanity…Whats vanity? I am an artist in 2014 dealing with many elements of our social compact. It takes a lot of hardwork and thinking outside the box “to make it”. Of course I am influenced by all the great artists of time. Of course I am influenced by public demonstrators, street artists. A part of becoming a “real” artist is to get your work to the public, and that is what I did.

The work wasn’t a PR stunt, it wasn’t smashing someone else’s work. And it wasn’t done bad. The work created at TOMS Marfa was all hand made, done in the rain and wind, and if it wasn’t for the natural elements, the whole building would have been blue. It got washed off. I wanted the work to look even more ‘apocalyptic’. I was called out on bullshit in regards to social inequality. I don’t think we need to debate that. It exists.  Inequality exists on many levels, including the art world.

Elmgreen brought up that Prada Marfa had become a place for people to meet, families, lovers, etc. Prada Marfa has also become a place for social critique, consumerism and branding. It has also become a place with some people in America that don’t want to be labeled with such a piece of art, that is meant to stay in a degree of pristine and preservation, but only on the front and sides; because the back is worked over with graffiti and street tags. Perhaps if a real open dialog was left open with Prada Marfa, I would have never chose it as a site specific installation; because others would have challenged and commented the dysfunctions of the times before me.

The local authorities really put it to me in regards to my warrant. When I first was arrested it said I had an arson charge, endangering others and criminal mischievous. I was pointed out to all these charges by the high patrol officer on his computer. He and I saw them first hand on his laptop in the squad car. After I was caught, it changed to just criminal mischievous, and the county in which Prada Marfa was located suggested the maximum amount of bail, which was 20,000.

I am not a wealthy person. I work for free where I am located because the person is offering me a place to paint. Sort of a residency. In return I apply  my business and art skills to the business. I set up art and clothing departments and paint custom crafts. Luckily I have someone that cares about me deeply and believes in me as an artist. But, I did get to experience jail, which opened a whole other subject for me to explore.

If you have not been in jail, never wish jail on someone. Incarceration is interesting and inhumane subject matter; and to think, around this world, all the people that are incarcerated, born into incarceration and will always be incarcerated.  I think as citizens of advanced nations its our responsibility  to give intelligence and life to the world, because we are free to do so, versus consuming and branding the globe, which leads to why I chose TOMS. One for One. One shoe store for another.

TOMS became the focal point because I have first hand experience with the brand known for its giving. The project is full of exaggerated satire, sarcasm, comedy (depending on your sense of humor) and factual reality. I questioned the outsourcing of TOMS to China. I questioned TOMS relationship to evangelical groups. I questioned helping others through consumerism. I questioned the ideas of advanced and developing nations. I questioned neocapitalism. I questioned colonization. I questioned celebritism. I questioned; How about helping America?

I chose glitter shoes as the spring line. Because glitter makes everything better, right. All the kids that I painted and put on the front had glitter feet. Because sifting through garbage makes it much happier with glitter shoes. Or sitting on a worn tire with your starving baby brother makes it not so painful with glitter shoes. Or a kid slaving away at a cocoa plantation with glitter shoes makes the low pay worth while. These were some of the images I painted. These subjects are nothing new to me. I have made video work in regards to these types of subjects. Its what I do.

What is coincidental, is that Blake the owners of TOMS was giving a speech on Altruism and announced that he was getting into the coffee business, “Your daily ritual can help change everyday life”….. One pound of coffee gives one week worth of clean drink water. I just to think to myself, “Globally, aren’t we all facing loss of resource and ecocide.” Californians losing water… People in the Northeast having undrinkable water due to fracking, drilling operations and spills. And yet, another cash crop is being developed for further deforestation so Western consumers can feed their addictions, not ritual, and believe they are helping someone in the process.

The store where I operate from, we hand paint TOMS and are known for it. We just received the TOMS catalog and it seems TOMS is style biting and selling reproduced hand painted shoes, originally sourced from Haitians.

I believe if there is going to believe corporate governing, one percent control, inequalities, exploitation of “developing nations”, destruction of nature,,,,, there needs to be art of equal power and that art needs to be protected, and supported, because art is everything and it challenges the fabric of time.

Well, y’all can learn more about the project and me at:

Thanks for your time.

Joseph Magnano



Les Connally March 22, 2014 - 11:38

This is respected.

But De Kooning was asked and agreed

Robert Rauschenberg
American (Port Arthur, Texas, 1925 – 2008, Captiva, Florida)

Erased de Kooning Drawing

Drawing | traces of drawing media on paper with label and gilded frame

Les Connally March 22, 2014 - 11:47

Other than his overwhelming narcism that would have us care what he thinks, if we liked the result would we be more forgiving? Is it ok for Bansky to deface a centuries old patina on a building I love. Is it the label “art” on Prada Marfa that changes the conversation?

Evil White Devil March 22, 2014 - 16:45

what a dipshit

Whisper in your ear March 22, 2014 - 18:22

Thanks Mom

pffft March 22, 2014 - 19:32

bitch, please. take the attitude and go somewhere people need a preacher. i suggest you try a country devastated by war or famine.

Whisper in your ear March 22, 2014 - 22:28

America is on its way pffft. good thing I got good people in my life in a good part of the country. You must be on those meds or a recovering meth addict that was saved by his daddy.

Robert Boyd March 23, 2014 - 13:58

You and Uriel Lsnderos should get together and PARTAY, bro.

Bob March 24, 2014 - 10:56

Defacing private property is never ‘art’, it is vandalism. Get over yourself.

Ray-Mel Cornelius March 24, 2014 - 18:55

Mr. Magnano wants respect for this act he’s calling art, but what about respect for the creator(s) of “Prada Marfa”? How about if he creates a work that makes his points without adversely affecting another work?

This strikes a nerve for me because a publicly accessible piece of mine was vandalized. A friend informed me of the damage by saying “a graffiti artist” had spray-painted vulgar references to the subject along with insults directed at the proprietors of the establishment on whose wall it was attached. The friend meant well, but no artist did this, any more than Mr. Magnano’s act is art. The vandals who attacked my work were making a
point of their anger at the owners of the business, not to me, I just happened to be in the way.

I repaired the piece, and while I was doing so many people from the neighborhood came by to tell me how sorry they were that the vandalism had happened and how much they enjoyed seeing the work on their daily walks and how it cheered them. It seems the piece had become something like a part of the neighborhood’s identity. I was able to restore it to its original appearance and all signs of the stupidity were erased.

The point of bringing personal experience into this is if Mr. Magnano wants to make a point of capitalism or public art or anything else, let him make a work that is more powerful than “Prada Marfa”, something that eclipses that piece in profundity, if not popularity, (something that shouldn’t be that hard, really) without attemting to destroy someone else’s work, whatever his opinion of that work might be. Otherwise he’s no better than the nitwits who abused my work to show they were pissed off at the work’s hosts.

david hardaker April 23, 2014 - 10:37

I get weekly emails from this guy, don’t know why, and I’m sure I’m not alone. One thing is very clear and that is by any measurable, his work is derivative and poorly executed. I will print out his e-mails on archival paper, draw over them and sell them to you for a $10 donation to a charity of your choice. I’m sure he’ll be OK with that.

Joe Spurlock April 23, 2014 - 15:02

It’s like me saying his face is my canvas if I bash it. Same as when I, along with many other folks, wanted to “collaborate” with Uriel’s face canvas.

Les Connally May 14, 2014 - 07:43

I am looking to make contact with the other Les Connally who blogged here.
I can be reached at [email protected]

SJC December 28, 2016 - 16:17

Utter nonsense. He claims the right to alter someone else’s work, because art is contemporary, changing and evolving. What self-righteous crap! Would he condone chopping off Michaelangelo’s David’s legs and placing the remains in a wheelchair to protest war? I’m not an artist, but the vandalism of someone else’s work is unacceptable. Destruction of art is NOT art. It is vandalism and destruction. BTW, since you are so fond of Tom’s, know that they manufacture shoes for under $3. They sell said shoes for $50. Giving away a shoe means they still have a $44 profit. Oh, and they are giving shoes to places that don’t need or want the shoes. They need water, food, medicine, education, but not shoes. Brilliant marketing though. Sure worked on our vandal artist Joseph Magnano.

Joachim West January 4, 2017 - 05:43

Prada and the artists got plenty of added brand recognition from the site and every time it gets vandalized they get more. It looks like the only permanent damage that he did was a bit of paint on the side which should have cost about 50 dollars to fix, a dollar amount much lower than the value of the publicity that Prada, the site and the artists got. The only one who really seems to have been hurt from it all was Joe who probably had to pay a fortune in struggling artist money and who seems to have gotten a good bash to the ego. It looks like it might have been good for him though since he’s making a living now selling paintings of cows. Good for him. I wonder if the big complaint that people have isn’t really just with the quality of the work. If it had been incredible, would they still call him a vandal or would they call him a graffiti artist? Don’t Banksy and Ron English rail against the same kinds of things and break the same laws? Is the wall of a Prada ad in the middle of nowhere really so much holier than a Prada ad in the middle of the city? Well, I for one am just happy that it entertained me and caused me to read up on the event. If I hadn’t, I would have never seen anyone use; “artist-cum-vandal” in a sentence.

Ray-Mel Cornelius January 4, 2017 - 16:21

Actually I would pay to see a piece titled “Artist Cum Vandal”. Especially if it was a performance with a score by the Austin band The Love Vandals.


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