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Surreal Estates, Sacramento, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"

A work made of chromogenic print.

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  • A work made of chromogenic print.


July 2005


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Surreal Estates, Sacramento, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 2005


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso Surreal Estates is a community of eleven homes and studios being built in North Sacramento by artists for artists. The project has been in the making for eleven years as the artists have sought a site, obtained financing and government approvals, and have planned and designed their homes. Ground was broken on the 1.3-acre site in March 2005, and occupancy was expected before Christmas of that year. The homes will sell for $125,000 to $220,000, depending on the buyer’s income. The prices for these twelve-hundred square-foot homes and eight-hundred squarefoot studios are considerably lower than current Sacramento prices, because the artists and their families and friends are doing virtually all of the work. Each artist is required to put in at least thirty-five hours a week on the job, but many are logging closer to sixty, despite summer temperatures that often reach a hundred degrees in California’s Central Valley—giving new meaning to the term “sweat equity.” Motivating the artists is their agreement that no one will get a key to a house until everyone can get one. The $2.4 million project has received substantial loans from local government. As part of the land purchase agreement with the North Sacramento School District the artists have made a commitment to spend one day a week teaching at a local school and to host periodic open studios. The area in which they have chosen to realize their dreams is a low-income residential neighborhood that has attracted artists and galleries despite a serious crime problem. In 1999 Kyle Billing, a twenty-three-year-old graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, was shot and killed as he loaded supplies into his new studio in the middle of a November day. The developer for Surreal Estates is Mercy Housing, founded in 1981 by the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha, Nebraska, a group of nuns who specialize in building affordable housing and healthy communities. In analyzing the variability of artists’ incomes, Mercy Housing found them to bear some similarity to those of migrant farm workers. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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