Dallas

Paola Pivi: Ma’am at Dallas Contemporary Museum

Paola Pivi’s exhibition, Ma’am, at the Dallas Contemporary Museum fills the galleries with colorful creatures and inflatables, coffee beans, feathers, and faux pearls. Visual tricks and gags, sensorial puns, and oddities—these are the territory of Pivi’s sculptures, photographs, films, and interventions. Her monumentally scaled, untitled airplane work—a small Fiat G-91 placed upside-down on the floor—guards the entrance into the space. Around the corner, a swath of Pivi’s neon-colored, life-size polar bears stand, crouch, lay, and perch frozen in time. Covered in tiny faux feathers in various shades like neon pink and lime green, Pivi’s bears are big, surreal teddies that visitors aren’t allowed to touch. Their colors and positions add to their unreality, though upon close inspection, I noticed that their eyes are oddly realistic-looking.

Paola Pivi. Installation view of Ma'am, 2016. Photo by Kevin Todora. Image courtesy Dallas Contemporary.

Paola Pivi. Ma’am, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of Dallas Contemporary. Photo: Kevin Todora.

On the other side of the airplane, a series of various spinning wheels—bicycle wheels mostly, though not of uniform size or make—with feathers extending from their spokes churn methodically in clockwise and counterclockwise courses. The next set of works beckons with a loud hum and a familiar scent. A giant, rainbow-colored inflatable ladder is propped up as high as it can be in the gallery’s ample space. Ducking underneath to enter the next room, I quickly identified the slightly acrid scent in the air: Pivi’s 2008 work, a musk ox (a horned ox named for its strong scent) standing amid and blending into a pile of whole coffee beans. Across the gallery, in an epically sized photograph, I see a solitary donkey standing in a sad, solitary motorboat, set against a field of oceanic blue, sea and sky.

More photographs can be found in the next room. A large pair of images on adjoining walls depict two zebras posed somewhat unexpectedly in a snowy landscape. On the gallery’s third wall, a motley crew of animals—a camel, some cows, a polar bear, a donkey, some horses, a llama, a snake, a butterfly, some ducks, a couple of sheep, and two very spastic-looking dogs—share a lust, tranquil landscape with green grass, trees in the distance, and bright blue sky. All of these animals in Pivi’s One Love (2007)—despite their different species—are creamy, cool tones of white.

Paola Pivi. Installation view of Ma'am, 2016. Photo by Kevin Todora. Image courtesy Dallas Contemporary.

Paola Pivi. Ma’am, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of Dallas Contemporary. Photo: Kevin Todora.

In the darkened gallery at the end of the museum’s corridor-like exhibition space, Pivi’s only video in the exhibition plays. There is a row of airplane seats, with bright orange goldfish floating languidly inside their globe-like fishbowls, strapped in by the all-too-familiar airplane seat belt. I watched as the fish bobbed and swam about, trying to keep their equilibrium as the water in their bowls rocked and dipped with the movement of the plane. This shot gave way to a tour of the entire plane, where I could see that each seat is occupied not by humans but by fish. This video, I Wish I Am Fish (2009), existed both as a performance and as documentation.

This walk-through of Pivi’s exhibition—her first solo museum presentation in the U.S., according to the wall didactics—has thus far been very descriptive, faithful to the exhibition itself. And I hesitate to move beyond this simple description, to infer what it might mean, or to offer much in the way of critique. Pivi’s works appeal because they are bright, funny, and a bit strange. They may be complicated to stage, or layered in terms of the artist’s thought process, but they present themselves in transparent ways. Her images are beautiful and clean, her landscapes desolate though not inhospitable. Pivi’s oddball animals may function as characters in some unseen narrative, but if this is the case, then the play has yet to be completed.

Paola Pivi. Installation view of Ma'am, 2016. Photo by Kevin Todora. Image courtesy Dallas Contemporary.

Paola Pivi. Ma’am, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of Dallas Contemporary. Photo: Kevin Todora.

In the catalog available at the front desk of the museum, several prominent curators expound upon possible meanings behind Pivi’s works, spinning words around the work like cotton candy. But it’s all just empty calories, sugar and air, and it doesn’t add value to the artist’s simple, genuine, and absorbing works of art. Rather than add jargon to the fray, I prefer to let them breathe—as the exhibition does, with few works and ample space, and little in the way of explanation—and hope to see more soon.

Paola Pivi: Ma’am is on view at Dallas Contemporary Museum through August 21, 2016.

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