Paola Pivi

Published September 16, 2013

The Italian artist Paola Pivi admits to having “visions.” They can strike at any time, she says, but one constant of these artistic flights is that they tend to involve an animal located in a strange setting. In other words, the 42-year-old Pivi has tapped into direct inspiration for her surreal sculptures and environmental works. “These visions come from a more instinctual elaboration of life,” she explains from New Delhi, where she now lives with her Tibetan poet and composer husband, Karma Lama. Pivi says that she experiences one to seven visions over the course of a year, and some visions can take a decade of mental gestating before transforming into artworks. In 2007, at the Kunsthalle Basel, a leopard that Pivi rented from a German animal trainer meandered through 3,000 cups of cappuccino laid out on the gallery floor. In 2003, she photographed two zebras standing on the snow-capped Gran Sasso Mountain and placed a lone donkey in a motorboat near the island of Alicudi, Italy.

This month, when Galerie Perrotin opens the  doors of its first New York City location, Pivi’s latest psychological menagerie will be on full display. Entitled “Ok, you are better than me, so what?” the show will include a series of sculptures that Pivi devised after envisioning a peculiar scene of a polar bear dancing with a grizzly bear. “I did not want to commission the killing of the two animals in order to have them in taxidermy,” says Pivi. Instead she hired “the Prada of taxidermists,” as she called the expert, to construct electric-hued bears made from urethane foam, plastic, and feathers. This isn’t the first time bears have appeared in Pivi’s work: In Venice in 2007, she famously displayed a giant yellow-feathered polar bear, and a 2010 show at Galerie Perrotin in Paris included a faux bear rug. But for her first solo gallery show in New York, Pivi’s imaginative bears take on even more psychedelic dimensions. Perhaps it isn’t such a revelation to find such animals haunting her brainscape: Pivi used to live in Anchorage, Alaska, where she considered the magnificent beasts her neighbors.