Paola Pivi


The Kunsthalle Basel is presenting the first solo exhibition in Switzerland of works by the Italian artist Paola Pivi (1971, Milan). In recent years, Pivi has been represented at important international group exhibitions such as the 1999 and 2003 Venice Biennales, and has exhibited her works, among others in 2006, in the solo exhibition *My religion is kindness. Thank you, see you in the future, at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan.
Paola Pivi produces installations and objects which underscore and dramatise absurd aspects of reality. She places familiar objects in odd situations and contexts, with the result that they take on an additional, modified meaning and function and, through these combinations, break with cultural, social and societal conventions. The focus of attention is often the theme of the uniqueness of individuals and objects and the contrasting artificial seriality. The artist creates iconic images that fire the viewers’ imagination while at the same time always intriguing and alienating them. The projects require longer periods of time and are sometimes implemented with the help of scientists and specialists. They usually only exist for a short period, and Pivi finally presents these temporarily restricted works in the form of photographs.
In larger projects, such as the 1999 Venice Biennale, Pivi exhibited a Fiat G91 fighter aircraft lying on its back; in 1998 she had a large truck presented turned on its side. Last year, in the framework of the Kontracom festival in Salzburg, she installed a Westland Wessex helicopter on the Residenzplatz in Salzburg, standing upside down on its rotor-blades. Robbed of its function, A Helicopter Upside Down In A Public Place lay on its back like a helpless insect in front of the Mozart monument and thus satirised the actual power of the machine.
Pivi made a name for herself with photographs of wild animals in alien surroundings: zebras in a snow-covered mountain landscape; alligators creeping in whipped cream; ostriches or a donkey in a boat on the water near the shore. These animal photographs were not processed in Photoshop but actually staged. Another photography project, Alicudi project, is based on the daringly utopian idea of taking a one-to-one photograph of the Mediterranean island Alicudi, which is two kilometres in diameter. The Alicudi project will be complete when the photograph is as large as the island – it would thus be the largest photograph in the world.
In other works such as Untitled (pearls), which she first showed in 1999 at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Pivi employs minimalist aesthetics. Rectangles densely filled with strings of artificial pearls are hung on the wall as objects: the concrete form of the rectangle is dissolved by the messy appearance of pearls on strings. The brilliance and luxurious obtrusiveness of pearls attract viewers while also keeping them at a distance. In a series of colour pencil drawings on paper Pivi drew identical-sized circles which in their serial repetitions and arrangements seem to adhere to their own system. These drawings also play with the ambivalence of a visual attraction and simultaneous repulsion: the dense patterns of circles tease the eye with pop-like camouflage structures and irritate it to the extent that disconcerting flickers are produced.
Pivi also develops performative actions: For a performance at the Wrong Gallery during the Frieze Art Fair in London in 2005, she had 100 Chinese men and women, all dressed in the same grey tops and blue pants, stand in a square, without moving or engaging in any reciprocal interaction with the visitors. The impact of this mass of people on the viewers was so strong that it was a challenge for them to confront the gaze of the group or even to step inside the room.

At the Kunsthalle Basel Paola Pivi will show a selection of works produced in recent years, as well as three new works developed specially for the exhibition at the Kunsthalle. The new installation piece “One cup of cappuccino, then I go” consists of a cage, which spreads over two large rooms of the ground floor and is filled with 3000 cappuccino cups. A photograph of a leopard in the installation accompanies the work, which was taken before the opening the show to the public.

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The exhibition is generously supported by: