The Bear Needs from Paola Pivi


This fall, some unusual creatures will emerge from the wild to bring humor and mischief to unsuspecting passers-by. In Colorado, life-size polar bears with fluorescent feathers lurk in human-like positions – from yoga poses to hugs – in lift huts and ski lodges around Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and the Aspen Art Museum, adorning ski passes. In Las Vegas, 50 baby bears hang in the atrium of the Aria Hotel and dance in the air. And when you step into a Louis Vuitton store, you’ll find images of a leopard roaming the brand’s new Artycapucines handbag designs – swirling up a carpet of gold-plated cappuccino cups.

The works of art escaped the imagination of Italian-born, Alaska-based performance and installation artist Paola Pivi, breaking through both gallery and museum walls to lure the public into their playful and enigmatic world.

Bear Like Me (2019) © Paola Pivi
Louis Vuitton Artycapucines bag, £ 6,250

Louis Vuitton Artycapucines bag, £ 6,250

Pivi was first known in 1999. With her absurd, life-size anti-war sculpture of an upside-down G-91 fighter jet, she helped Italy win the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale. She delighted the same audience in 2003 with her complaint-sized photo of a donkey in a boat – a realistic yet fantastic-looking picture that she took on the tiny island of Alicudi in the Mediterranean Sea. Londoners may remember that in 2009 she gathered 1,000 volunteers in the Tate Modern turbine hall to howl over the injustice of Chinese rule over Tibet. As a measure of their importance, Italy’s national museum of contemporary art, Maxxi in Rome, handed over its main exhibition space for their work immediately before Covid. Next year, after a € 5 million renovation, MAC Marseille will reopen with a show dedicated to Pivi.

It’s a good time for Pivi to ruffle some – colorful – feathers. Post-Covid, her work, which deals with human nature, the climate crisis and political injustice, has gained new relevance. “I see the world a bit like this new Covid world,” she says with a dramatic flair. “It shows how we are completely disorganized and separated; how stupid.”

Pivi with bears from their We Are The Baby Gang installation at Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
Pivi with bears from her We Are The Baby Gang installation at Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas © Christopher Sturman

A petite, chic brunette who only wears clothes by Italian designer Maurizio Pecoraro (“I was kidding myself, just wearing his clothes interrupt me because as an Italian I never know when to stop talking”), Pivi is ready for new converts. “My art appeals to an uninformed audience as much as it does an informed audience,” she says. “But in a gallery my work is protected by a context, a shield. In public art I have no protection, I am exposed to every passerby and all the emotions and reactions. ”

She is excited about this new exposure. “The best thing about art is that we should have the greatest possible freedom to experiment, which should be free from borders.”

Many of Pivi’s most famous images seem torn from imaginary realms, but they are actually true events that play with our understanding of the interaction between humans and nature. Fffffffffffffffffffffff presented an alligator emerging from a lake of whipped cream in 2006; I wish I was fish In 2009, 80 goldfish were strapped into aircraft seats for a three-hour private jet flight; during 2015 Yee-haw let a collection of horses frolic in the middle of the Eiffel Tower in dreamlike ecstasy. The works are “characterized by uncompromising simplicity”, wrote curator Jens Hoffmann in an essay for her Damiani monograph in 2013. “Pivi is careful not to express the meaning of her pieces. The task of constructing symbolic meaning is a task that the viewer assigns to himself. ”

We are the baby gang at Aria Resort & Casino
We are the baby gang at the Aria Resort & Casino © Christopher Sturman

What they have in common is “the smooth, detached feeling that we expect from the media or advertising world,” wrote art critic Massimiliano Gioni in the same book. “The confusion does not exist between art and non-art, but between the real and the possible.”

Pivi’s new Louis Vuitton bag with safari bags (6,250 euros) shows such a picture: a leopard walking over 3,000 cappuccino cups “borrowed from a magician”, taken from a staged event in Basel in 2007. There is something beautiful about it Worrying, as well as a raunchy kind of joke – cappuccino cups on the capucines bag. “Perhaps absurd,” says Pivi with a laugh. “The juxtaposition of the elements is just very cheeky. It tickles you. ”When asked about the idea, Pivi said she answered“ the quickest yes of my life ”. Why not? To the right? It’s so much fun. ”In many ways, Pivi sees Louis Vuitton, with all of its history, tradition and respect for the craft, as“ like a gallery. I knew that my art would be protected, enhanced, nurtured, loved and cherished and treated with this highly developed craftsmanship. “

That Pivi embraces art without borders – streets, bags, performance, animals, planes, mountains, sea – reflects their own life without borders; She describes herself as “nomadic” because she lived in Italy, Alaska, China and India, where she and her husband, the composer and poet Karma Lama, fought against the Tibetan authorities for four years for custody of her now 14-year-old Adopted son fought. “Paola embodies her work in a way that is unaffected by some of the expectations one has of the structuring of life,” says Justine Ludwig, who curated the Pivis Shows at Dallas Contemporary 2016 and The Bass Museum, Miami, 2018 takes these familiar objects or ideas and then radically thwarted expectations with deceptively simple interventions … you are drawn into their world and want more of it. ”

I did it again - DeFine Art Program, 2018

I Did It Again – DeFine Art Program, 2018 © Savannah College of Art and Design

“Paola’s work makes the seemingly impossible possible,” adds her Parisian gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin, to whom she was introduced in 1999 by artist Maurizio Cattelan. When Perrotin first saw her upside-down fighter jet, he thought she was “either a genius or a madwoman”. . After talking to her, I knew she was a genius. ”

This genius certainly lies in the balance between the playful, poetic and political character of her work. A current installation exhibition at the Center de la Vieille Charité in Marseille, 25,000 Covid jokes (it’s not a joke)She saw her collecting Covid-19 internet memes and jokes. Shown together, they are both a commentary on the horrors of globalization and humor in the face of tragedy. Pivi giggles and remembers her favorite meme: that of someone who takes a piece of kitchen paper and cuts it in two – playing with the rush for toilet paper. “The show is like the work of thousands of artists; there is someone at home who thinks something up and thinks it up, applies the writing and the color … “

When asked how her work has redesigned comics in art, she is delightedly confused: “I can’t answer in a second, like burping an answer!” She exclaims. “I only used humor as an ingredient.” At the beginning of her career she says: “Nobody saw the humor, not even me. The humor came out later – maybe 10 years in my practice. I thought I was doing very serious art. And then all of a sudden people started saying: Did you purposely ironic that? Or humor? And I guess what irony? But you are right. When all of my work is accumulated, it is of course visible. Take the alligator in whipped cream: it’s really fun if you think about it. ”


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