Expedition into a Magical World
Paola Pivi at MAXXI

A Shalimar fragrance wafts from miniature sofas. A gigantic network of intertwined pillows hangs below the ceiling. Bicycle rims with colorful feathers spin on the walls. The most spectacular work in Paola Pivi’s show World Record, however, is an over 100-square-meter-large mattress landscape. MAXXI visitors are invited to explore it. But that’s not so easy. Because Pivi mirrored this giant object, as it were. About one meter above the lying surface is a twin of the enormous mattress. In the space between the two mattresses, adult visitors become small in the true sense of the world. They have to kneel down, can crawl around on all fours, or roll around on the soft mattresses—they can become children again in a surreal space that muffles all movements and noises. But you can also simply lie there and observe other people. Fun, Pivi has often explained, is one of the keys to her work.

The show at MAXXI brings together a selection of Pivi’s works from the last twenty-five years. It was curated by Anne Palopoli and Hou Hanru, the director of the Rome museum and a member of Deutsche Bank’s Global Art Advisory Council. MAXXI is one of the partner institutions of the Deutsche Bank Collection. It has shown a number of exhibitions of the bank’s “Artist of the Year,” including Basim Magdy, Kemang Wa Lehulere, and Caline Aoun. Paola Pivi is also closely tied to the collection. An entire floor of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt is devoted to her work.

Pivi made a name for herself with projects that emphasize absurd aspects of the day-to-day world and confront the viewer with unexpected, often spectacular situations. The Italian artist, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, puts familiar things in unusual contexts to question cultural and social conventions. With her often surreal-looking installations she creates her own personal version of reality. “Reality, not realism” is the motto of her work, with which she has already been represented twice at the Venice Biennale.

Despite all the fun her works provide, they repeatedly allude to political and social issues. This is the case with Share, but it’s not fair (2012), the sky full of pillows she installed in the entrance area of MAXXI. The pillows were sewn from yellow and red material that is otherwise used to make robes of Tibetan monks. As the title suggests, unconditional giving, empathy, and renunciation of a possessive mentality are principal tenets of Buddhism. At the same time, Tibet has been occupied by China for decades. Thousands of monasteries have been destroyed and Tibetan Buddhism has been harshly persecuted. This work is an homage to a suppressed culture that the artist has been connected with since she married the Tibetan musician Karma Lama. Simultaneously, the suspended installation creates a spiritual atmosphere. “Walking under the great expanse of cushions,” says Pivi, is like exploring a magical world.” It is a world that consistently eschews clear interpretation. “What I like about art is that it tells me so many things that I don’t know and can’t put into words.”

Paola Pivi. World Record
Until September 8, 2019