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.