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Real estatement

March 10, 2006 1:37 AM

In the past several years, Santa Barbara has been in the clutches of what must be considered a pathological obsession with real estate. Mere mention of the phrase excites nerves, greedy grins and high anxieties among the haves, the have-nots, the wanna-haves and the used-to-haves.

Facts and figures rattle the collective brain. We learned from a USA Today poll a few months ago that Santa Barbara's real estate is the most overvalued in the nation, by a factor of 69 percent.

This is also the town where Oprah Winfrey walked up to somebody's house -- not for sale -- and pulled out her checkbook to the tune of $50 mil.

The Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum's annual raffle has become wildly successful since it began to give away a grand prize of a "Million Dollar Home." We are living in a fantasyland, after all.

Given this insanely charged atmosphere and fixation on a single subject, the first question you might raise when you discover that real estate is the theme of David Florimbi's new show at CAF is: What took so long? How is it that Florimbi's work is the first significant processing of this neurotic public concern in the socially questioning forum of contemporary art? Maybe artists are nervous, too.

On the evidence here, Florimbi is the right person for the job of letting the games begin. His wry, carefully ambiguous show aptly called "Imminent Domain" goes down as easily or as darkly ironic as the observer would like. He could be indicting the distinctly "unreal" nature of the game or playfully massaging our perceptions with his artful fakery. You be the judge.

Santa Barbara-based Florimbi, who has also been a filmmaker and music video director, knows his subject as well as most of us. The referential grist for his conceptual mill comes from real estate marketing and the sales-oriented subculture of the real estate business.

Like a pop art forager and real estate ad monger combined with painter, Florimbi scans real estate ads, enlarges them to a surreal scale on canvas and paints on top of the flat image, to give a strange layered, artificial surface -- not quite photographed, not quite painted. He affixes actual stickers you might find on weekend real estate signs, nudging our attentions with teasing words like "Pending," "Available" and "Upgraded."

Those three words, in fact, form the basis of a triptych in the corner Bloom Foundation Gallery. Each word adorns a painting of green, grassy field with a lolling longhorn as a central figure. In the first painting, the bovine is just a vaporous form in the grass -- "pending." In the next, it's fully formed with twisting horns proudly displayed. And in the third -- "upgraded" -- it becomes a whited-out silhouette. You naturally read the progression as a summation of an animal's mortal path, from seed to flesh to spirit. That existential storyline runs counter to the pragmatic, market-savvy aspect of the supposed real estate angle.

In the "Glassbox" space outside the gallery, Florimbi himself gets into the picture. The artist scanned actual portraits from the local real estate magazine CASA, then painted himself into the visages as three separate entities and "ethnic types." The trio hails from the artist's fictitious real estate firm Davidson, Mentira and Flowers and they all project that familiar helpful, pleasant and determinedly neutral expression of the profession.

Adding historical depth, Florimbi also links the marketing -- and his ersatz ads -- to the 19th century tradition of the Luminist painters, including Albert Bierstadt. These painters were commissioned by the railroads to create lavish visions of a presumed paradise in California, to lure Easterners westward

Often, these paradisiacal landscapes were veritable wastelands, such as much of Los Angeles before water was hijacked from the Owens Valley.

But that's another story. Or is it?

The large painting called "Happy Canyon," also in the "Glassbox," presents an aerial view of a desolate and brown (or, in California boosterist parlance, "golden") spread of property. Promotional blather serves as a seductive caption (i.e., "LAND, LAND, LAND IN HAPPY CANYON . . .") and the appearance of neatly drawn lines over the land implies a potential division of lots.

Or, to paraphrase recent public debate in town, the drawing of lines over property could symbolize the wolf's marking of raw terra firma, declaring it now as territory. Looking at and thinking about Florimbi's exhibition is likely to arouse such dark thoughts along with a laugh or two.

And we all need that-- to take our mind off subjects like property values. Artist David Florimbi's "Upgraded," "Pending" and "Available," from top.

Artist David Florimbi's "Upgraded"



Artist David Florimbi's "Available,"



Artist David Florimbi's "Pending"


Santa Barbara Magazine
Arts Scene: Unreal Real Estate
February / March 2006

Distinction Magazine
Artistic Realty: Part and Painted Parcels
September / October 2005

Santa Barbara Magazine
Dream Rider: Newcomer David Florimbi connects with Santa Barbara in his glowing, visionary paintings
Fall 1997

Architectural Digest
Neil Simon: The Playwright's Malibu
February 1991

Vanity Fair
Fanfare: Master Wit
May 1990

Home & Garden

David Florimbi

February 1990