Paola Pivi’s Magical Menagerie

Cultured Magazine
Sep 26, 2013 1:38PM

Emmanuel Perrotin opened a New York branch of his namesake gallery last week with the kind of fanfare and frenzy that we’ve come to expect from the French dealer extraordinaire. A lavish dinner for collectors, followed by a raucous party with live performances by WhoMadeWho and his DJ-in-residence, Monsieur Moru, wasn’t quite enough. An artist carnival—think ring tossing for Daniel Arsham’s sculptures and a claw machine loaded with Takashi Murakami’s plush toys—capped the night off and sent guests home with lots of prizes. The opening night shindig was held at the Russian Tea Room, which furthered the evening’s bear theme, a dedication to the gallery’s inaugural show, “Ok, you are better than me, so what?” by Paola Pivi. On the eve of the show’s (second) opening night, we sat down with the peripatetic Pivi to discuss jovial bears, powerful tulkus and the search for a printer large enough to reproduce an island.

How were you selected for the gallery’s inaugural show? Well, when Daphné Valroff told me that Emmanuel was opening a gallery in New York, about a year ago, I asked her ‘who’s’ going to be the opening artist?’ Daphné said, ‘I don’t know Paola, would you like to?’ Sure! Of course I would. Then Daphné told Emmanuel and that was that.

So, did you know immediately that you wanted to produce this show, with a room full of huge, colorful bears? Well, at the time I was working on another huge project, Tulkus 1880 to 2018. I didn’t have a day off for like a year and a half. I really didn’t think I could take on such an important project like this, but… Emmanuel knows my future works. So, he basically designed the show with my work in mind. Just after Christmas he emailed me this sketch—like he dreamt the whole thing up—with all of these bears. What we ended up showing was very similar to that first sketch. I simply said, ‘yes.’

Tell me about Tulkus 1880 to 2018 that you were working on. Basically there are thousands of spiritual leaders who are the recognized reincarnations of the previous Dalai Lama. These tulkus are photographed and the images are said to posses the powers of the tulkus themselves, so they’re considered holy objects. My husband is Tibetan and we started a research project to find the hundreds of thousands of these tulkus, all those that have been documented from the beginning of photography. This has never been done before. We went monastery to monastery and to many historical archives to compile these lists.

Once we gathered the images, we then made large prints of each photo. The large prints and the documentation about each tulku is now a part of an exhibition that will travel to 10 institutions worldwide before we gift the entire project to the Tibetan people. The images—1,100 of them—were first shown at the Castello di Rivoli in Torino. It’s the most important museum of contemporary art in Italy. Then it traveled to Witte de With in Rotterdam.

Is the project privately funded? Yes, it’s a non profit project and funded in part by the institutions we have shown it with, as well as Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, some anonymous donors and myself.

You’ve lived all over the world, including Alaska, India and Shanghai, but I’m curious about the island in Italy. In 2001, I went back to live there on a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea near Sicily. There are only 62 people on that island and no cars. It was the focus of the Alicudi project, which is in progress still, but I took a photo of the island with the intention of printing it as large as the island itself.

And how large is the island? The island is shaped like a cone and is two kilometers wide. I went out on a boat and took a photo of the island and I’m printing it as large as the island. We’ve exhibited some of the images, but the project isn’t finished yet because I need $20 million to print it.

Photos by: Guillaume Ziccarelli/Courtesy Galerie Perrotin (Pivi and Perrotin); Attilio Maranzano/Courtesy Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (tulku); Hugo Glendinning/© Kunsthalle Basel, 2007

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