70 Unbearably Sweet Baby Bears by Artist Paola Pivi Are Messin’ Around in Perrotin Gallery and It’s Just Absolutely Adorable

It's the first time she's made baby versions of her feathered polar bears.

Paola Pivi, We like to fight (2019). Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli, courtesy of the artist & Perrotin
Paola Pivi, We like to fight (2019). Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli, courtesy of the artist & Perrotin.

Almost intimidating in their otherworldly adorableness, an army of feathered polar bear cubs by Paola Pivi is taking over Perrotin New York, a cacophony of color invading the gallery’s top floor.

The exhibition, “We are the baby gang,” marks the first time that the Italian artist has created her signature feathered bears in miniature, after making full-grown versions since 2006.

“I completely got surprised by these small ones,” Pivi admitted, speaking to artnet News at the gallery some weeks ahead of the April 25 opening. “They came out very feisty. They’re cute, but they’re not that cute! A little bit rough and a little bit sweet.”

The show was inspired by a dream in which she was surrounded by a lagoon full of baby bears, as if the arctic creatures had adapted to climate change by trading their creamy white fur for bold, electric shades of feathers. Her first bears, made in light yellow, were created after she moved to Alaska. More boldly colored bears followed, some of them hanging from trapezes or practicing yoga.

Installation view of "Paola Pivi: We are the baby gang." Artwork © Paola Pivi. Photo ©Attilio Maranzano, courtesy Perrotin New York

Installation view of “Paola Pivi: We are the baby gang.” Artwork © Paola Pivi. Photo ©Attilio Maranzano, courtesy Perrotin New York.

“I have never seen in real life a polar bear, and I don’t want to,” she admitted, noting that living on the outskirts of Anchorage, bears are such a common part of life that she keeps each floor of the house stocked with bear spray.

For the sculpted versions, the feathers come from turkeys, each painstakingly installed on carved foam bodies. The large-scale versions inaugurated Perrotin’s first New York location, on the Upper East Side, when it opened in 2013. “We are the baby gang” is Pivi’s first solo show in New York since.

In the new show, there are 70 baby bears in total, each with clever nicknames dreamed up by Pivi’s husband, Karma Lama, a composer of Tibetan music, through a kind of free-form poetry. The artist pairs the potential phrases with specific works; two tussling bears, for instance, are titled We Like to Fight, while an embracing duo is christened Long Time No See.

Paola Pivi, You drive me crazy (2019). Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli, courtesy of the artist & Perrotin.

Paola Pivi, You drive me crazy (2019). Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli, courtesy of the artist & Perrotin.

Pivi also sees the influence of their 12-year-old adopted son, Tenzin, who they brought home from India following a protracted, four-year legal battle, in the new work.

“We adopted Tenzin when he was five. Suddenly I started having a cute red sweater on the bed, cute rounded shoes close to my door,” Pivi said. “I always thought, ‘when will this aesthetic trickle down into my work?’ And I feel it’s happening now with the baby bears.”

It’s a busy spring for Pivi, who also has a large-scale show at MAXXI, Rome’s Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo. The exhibition features recent works but also includes Scatola umana (1994), a cubic sculpture in Plexiglas that also happens to be the first piece the artist ever sold.

Curator Hou Hanru encouraged Pivi to track down the piece for the occasion. She was a student in Italy at the time she made it, and was looking to fund more ambitious work. So she asked an older man in her figure drawing class (who she knew was a collector) if he would like to buy the sculpture. (Pivi asked for the equivalent of $2,000 in Italian lira, but happily accepted the counteroffer of approximately $300.)

View of Paola Pivi's <em>World Record</em> at MAXXI Museo Nazionale Delle Arti Del XXI Secolo Roma, Italy (2019). Photo by Attilio Maranzano, courtesy of the artist.

View of Paola Pivi’s World Record at MAXXI Museo Nazionale Delle Arti Del XXI Secolo Roma, Italy (2019). Photo by Attilio Maranzano, courtesy of the artist.

The MAXXI show takes its name from World Record, the delightful interactive mattress installation that the artist devised for her show last year at the Bass Museum in Miami. She’s made a new version of the piece in a different site-specific configuration, after having deconstructed the original and donated each mattress to charity.

“I just saw this ocean of white mattresses, with the idea that you could go inside,” Pivi said. “The effect that it had on the person was a total surprise. You become very friendly with strangers. Everybody starts smiling.”

Paola Pivi: World Record” is on view at the Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), Via Guido Reni 4A, Rome, April 3–September 8, 2019. 

Paola Pivi: We Are the Baby Gang” is on view at Perrotin, 130 Orchard Street, New York, April 25–June 8, 2019.


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