Pose With Neon Polar Bears at Paola Pivi's Show at the Bass

A work simply titled ? is one of Pivi's many polar bear sculptures.
A work simply titled ? is one of Pivi's many polar bear sculptures. Courtesy of Paola Pivi and Dallas Contemporary
Neon-feathered polar bears striking a pose. Goldfish ready to take flight from their bowls. Large taxidermic creatures emerging from a pool of coffee beans. Welcome to the world of Paola Pivi, opening her solo show "Art With a View" at the Bass this Saturday, October 13.

“Paola’s work is fantastical... and fun in terms of appearance, but she also has new work [in this show] that engages with deeper issues that all of us contend with every day,” says Leilani Lynch, assistant curator at the Bass, who worked with Justine Ludwig, the curator of "Art with a View" at Dallas Contemporary, to bring the exhibit to Miami.

For one of the new works, visitors will walk up a narrow staircase into a tight cube the size of a small room, where they’ll be surrounded by TV sets on all sides, even above and below. Lynch describes the installation as “a rotating Rubik's cube.” Viewers will be confronted with a slideshow while hearing a soundtrack of recorded lies. The audio track includes fabrications such as “You’re not at the Bass Museum” and “It snows in Miami 50 days out of the year,” which play while diverse images of nature, food, people, and political institutions appear on the screens.

“There is definitely a political aspect that is unavoidable [in this work] between the images and soundtrack,” says Lynch, who refers to the currently untitled installation as Lies. “We live in a society in which it is a fraught time...[There’s the] inundation with social media and using Facetuning to shift your own image or self-image. [There’s the] twisting of facts within the news and other things we contend with in daily life. [Paola Pivi] brings these things to the fore in this piece and immerses us in this alternate reality that has become our reality.”
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Untitled (donkey) (2003)
Courtesy of Paola Pivi and Dallas Contemporary
"Art With a View" also includes about 40 other works by Pivi. Visitors will encounter the popular brightly hued polar bears, which are made of foam and plastic, upon arrival to the exhibition. The show also includes Pivi’s photo of a donkey standing in a motorboat while looking out at the water as fog blurs the background.

“The photograph was taken in Italy when Paola was living on the island of Alicudi, which is an island with no cars, so they used donkeys to get around. It is staged with that exact look, but it is in some ways documentary footage. She takes photographs of things that are bizarre or out of reality but are also documentary in a way,” Lynch says.

The other new installation created for the exhibition offers a tactile and comfortable experience for spectators. Forty twin mattresses fill a platform on the ground in the museum’s largest gallery. Above the platform hangs a structure that holds an additional 40 mattresses. Visitors are encouraged to explore the space between the two surfaces.

“You’re allowed to crawl into and spend time in this soft, plush space. The positioning of this across the hall from the [Lies] piece serves as a refuge or respite from Lies. It allows for sensory deprivation, where you will feel comfortable and be able to relax,” she says.
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Untitled (zebras) (2003)
Courtesy of Paola Pivi and Dallas Contemporary
Guests can also view fantastical works such as a wall of mechanized spinning bicycle wheels accented with a single avian feather, like that of a peacock, turkey, or ostrich. They’ll see a photograph of two zebras on a snowy mountainside, a stuffed musk ox leg-deep in a pile of coffee beans, and a 16mm film of goldfish in bowls going on a jet plane ride, along with other works that fill the entire second floor of the museum.

Because many of the works include animals, it’s logical to engage in an environmentalist reading of Pivi’s work. Lynch agrees, saying, “It’s unavoidable... She has a special relationship with animals... [where she] imbues this human quality onto them. She gives them more of a spotlight in the museum in an unexpected way than in a natural history museum or a zoo. She’s working with them as collaborators. Also, her experience of living in Alaska grants her a great closeness with animals and nature.”

Pivi’s eclectic solo show offers an engagement of all of the senses. “There are elements of sound, movement, and touch... You will stimulate different senses when you smell the coffee beans, walk into a room of TVs, feel the softness of the mattresses, and watch the spinning feather wheel,” Lynch says.

“[Audiences] will probably leave feeling like they have gone on an emotional roller coaster in terms of feeling all this comfort and fun and seeing the pieces that are heavier and difficult to contend with. There are new possibilities for reality in terms of the world we live in, and Paola is great at presenting those possibilities.”

"Art With a View."
Friday, October 13, through March 10, 2019, at the Bass, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; Admissions is $10 for adults, $5 for students, seniors, and youth aged 13 to18, and free for Miami Beach residents and city employees, active-duty military, and children aged 12 or younger. An opening reception will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, October 13.
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth