Two's Company

Cecilia Alemani
Dec 21, 2012 9:07PM

The first time I saw an artwork by Paola Pivi was at the 1999 Venice Biennale. The artist was part of the main show curated by Harald Szeemann, and exhibited one of her most iconic pieces, a military airplane turned upside down, flipped on its back, like a giant toy. But the work that really hit me was a wonderful billboard she exhibited a few years, in 2003, again in Venice. Hanging outside a Venetian palazzo was a giant photograph depicting a donkey standing in a small boat, floating in the middle of the sea. As these two examples suggest, Pivi has been carrying out a series of ambitious and quixotic projects that highlight the power of imagination and a sense of freedom and possibility.

In various series of photographs and performances, Pivi has worked with animals to create dream landscapes and fairy-tale scenarios, in which disbelief is suspended and reality transformed into a hallucination. In 2006, for example, the artist turned an exhibition of hers into a strange farm or a make-shift genetic laboratory in which more than 40 animals - all rigorously white - were free to roam around. Cows, horses, dogs, parrots, doves, rabbits, and a llama lived together for 4 weeks, as in a color-coded Noah’s Ark.

In another typically absurd series of photographs, Pivi depicted animals in unusual contexts: a leopard walking among hundreds of cappuccinos cups, an alligator photographed as it played in a pond of whipped cream, and goldfish traveling on an  airplane. While they recall the cold, sleek esthetic of contemporary advertisements, Pivi's photographs are all rigorously shot from life, with no help from Photoshop or any digital manipulation. Each of her unconventional images is always carefully planned, staged, and photographed in real life. 

It is one of these photographs that we are currently showing on the HIGH LINE BILLBOARD: two zebras are portrayed on a snowy mountain, standing under a deep blue, cloudless sky, surrounded by snow. Sitting on the High Line and watching how people react to the artworks on view is probably the most rewarding part of my job. The park’s visitors simply love the zebras, they pose for photographs in front of them and they laugh out loud when seeing these two giant animals which appear to have somehow gone on holiday to the mountains.

I am Italian, like Paola Pivi, and I love her funny Italian anecdote related to the zebras. They are called Baggio and Del Piero, named after two very famous football players in Italy who played for the Juventus team which uses a black and white striped jersey. As I look at the photograph enlarged to the giant proportions of the HIGH LINE BILLBOARD, I cannot stop imagining the zebras leaving the flat surface of the billboard to engage in a football match on the High Line. Those are precisely the kind of things one comes to expect from Paola Pivi.

IMAGE: Paola Pivi, Untitled (zebras), 2012. Part of HIGH LINE BILLBOARD. Installation view, Edison ParkFast, West 18th Street at 10th Avenue, New York. Photo: Austin Kennedy. Courtesy of Friends of the High Line.

Cecilia Alemani