Italian Artist Paola Pivi on Why She Keeps it Casual With Potluck Dinners and ‘Never Decorates’ for Holiday Parties

In our new series, Entertaining With Art Icons, visual artists share their favorite traditions, tips, and tricks for hosting holiday parties.

Paola Pivi. Photographer: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

Few artists conjure as much joy as Paola Pivi, the Italian multimedia artist best known for her hypperreal polar bears, each one covered entirely in neon feathers and inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s readymades.

Born in Milan, Pivi studied at the Milan Art Academy and has lived in several countries, including India and the U.S. She now works and lives in Alaska, pursuing a practice that includes photography, sculpture, and performance.

The award-winning artist sat down with us to share how she likes to spend the holiday season.

How do you generally like to spend this time of year? Do you typically take a holiday?

I have been spending this time in many different ways. I change plans all the time according to where I am in my life when the holidays come. This year, I still do not know if I will stay in Alaska and try to connect as much as possible with the land by going outside as much as possible and trying to perform some form of skiing manageable for me, or if I will travel on a journey that ultimately takes me to Italy but stops in other places on the way, like Miami or New York or elsewhere.

Do you usually see family and friends? If so, are there any traditions you celebrate or partake in altogether?

Especially in Alaska, I try to see family and friends on a regular basis, quite a lot. Therefore when the holidays arrive, I do not feel the need to see them more, but I know I will.

What are some holiday traditions you grew up with, or things you’ve always enjoyed doing during this time of year?

In my childhood, every Christmas eve at midnight, there would be a train of my extended family walking through every room in the house in a line. Every person behind the one in front, entering every room, touring around in a circle, and exiting from the same door—excluding bathrooms—with the youngest in the family heading the line and holding a tiny statue of baby Jesus on a little white embroidered white pillow.

They’d be with the oldest auntie second in line harshly pushing and pulling the little one in front at every doorstep in order to make them walk the right path with all the big family following behind while singing a slow religious song a cappella. It was epic, absurd, and super fun. At times, one had to avoid meeting the glance of another family member while the lines entering and exiting the room were both going through the one door because one might risk bursting out laughing in this human snake-train line of slow-singing people.

Readers at the moment are likely thinking about how they’ll spend the season, which includes, hopefully, a few intimate gatherings, whether virtual or in person. Do you enjoy entertaining and if so, what in your view makes a good party?

All ages, all professions, and dogs allowed. These kind of parties come out really well in Alaska!

Pivi with her family over the holidays. Photo courtesy Paola Pivi.

Pivi with her family over the holidays. Photo courtesy Paola Pivi.

What is your favorite thing to make when you have people over?

I like potluck dinners, which I’ve learned about from Alaskan indigenous friends. Everyone brings something to share!

Do you have any decorating tips for holiday parties or gatherings?

I have never decorated for a party, just opened the doors. That is my style, but I appreciate enormously the party decorations done by friends like the late Enrico Astori, founder of Driade, or the dinner set ups by designer Maurizio Pecoraro.

What about tips for keeping conversations interesting?

The truth… nothing but the truth!

What does this time of year look like for you, as an artist?

This year has been the busiest of my life. I started with a solo show in Hong Kong at Massimo De Carlo, when all projects still seemed frozen by the global health crisis, and finished with a solo show at the Anchorage Museum supported by the Italian Council. In between, there were some 26 projects, the last time I counted, including a Louis Vuitton bag designed by me. I am happily feeling totally exhausted, like a marathon runner bent over the last steps before the finish line. I am not sure what happened between January and December. Are we really already here?

Pivi's Alaska. Photo courtesy Paola Pivi.

Pivi’s Alaska. Photo courtesy Paola Pivi.

What are you looking forward to?

The continuation of this frenzy into 2022. I love my life and I know this is the style for the next few months. I will have a solo show at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Marseille as soon as the museum will re-open after its renovations. And I am looking forward to the release of my large monograph edited by Justine Ludwig and co-published by Phaidon with the Anchorage Museum, MAXXI in Rome, Musée d’Art Contemporain, and the Bass Museum in Miami Beach.

What comes to mind when you think of next year?

Next year I would like to connect with my life in Alaska. I am living now with a deeper connection to the outside world, as if any outside day missed is a missed day, and my international shows that bring me to the hottest places on earth. Everywhere feels hot compared to this Alaskan winter!

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