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 OwensValley.
But that's another story. Or is it?
The large painting called "HappyCanyon," also
in the "Glassbox," presents
an aerial view of a desolate and brown (or, in Californiaboosterist 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
And we all need that-- to take our mind
off subjects like property values. Artist David Florimbi's "Upgraded," "Pending" and "Available," from
David Florimbi's "Upgraded"
David Florimbi's "Available,"
David Florimbi's "Pending"
Santa Barbara Magazine
Arts Scene: Unreal Real Estate
February / March 2006
Artistic Realty: Part and Painted Parcels
September / October 2005
Santa Barbara Magazine
Dream Rider: Newcomer David Florimbi connects with Santa Barbara in his glowing,
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