Born in 1971 in Milan, Italy, artist Paola Pivi has brought enchantment into the usually rigid and clean-cut realm of contemporary art. Her work journeys into the world of bears, both playful and profound, bring forth a vibrant narrative of their lives that captivates audiences. Her work advocates for bear conservation, reflecting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land.

In 1996, Pivi embarked on a daring adventure to Alaska, driven by an insatiable desire to encounter a bear in its natural habitat. She attributes this desire to her mundane city life in Italy, where bears and wilderness in general were a rare sight to see. Whereas, per her observations, those who lived in Alaska wouldn’t be as keen on tracking down bears. 

We are the baby gang by Paola Pivi. Image courtesy of Perrotin and Phaidon.

When she finally saw her first bear, the encounter marked the genesis of her fascination with these majestic creatures, eventually culminating in a unique artistic expression that would blur the lines between reality and imagination.

Pivi’s love for bears led her to create her first bear sculpture out of feathers. “I did not want to kill real bears,” she expressed.   

The Alaskan bear species, the Grizzly Bears, is classified as threatened in 48 different American states by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Experts from the Endangered Species Coalition cite habitat loss, threats to key food sources, and increased conflict with humans as the main causes of grizzly bear mortality. 

Paola Pivi (centre) at the 2007 Venice Biennale with her Bear. Image courtesy of Jason Schmidt.

Pivi’s large feathered bear made its debut at the 2007 Venice Biennale, signalling the beginning of a transformative artistic journey. Experts read that Pivi's bears’ colourful feathers have been influenced by Indian decorative techniques, a country that Pivi lived in before she settled in Alaska. This can metaphorically mean that the bears are transcending their geographical origins, being removed far from their natural habitat—something that is currently happening to real bears as human activity forces them out of their habitat. 

The bear’s flamboyant colours also serve as a poignant commentary on our disconnection from the natural world. Their colorfulness looks almost synthetic, signifying a sense of fakeness, highlighting that viewers are looking at the bears as something they are not. A playful creature of fiction, a teddy bear, more than a real-life breathing Grizzly bear.

We Are the Baby Gang by Paola Pivi at the Aria Hotel Lobby. Image courtesy of the Aria Hotel.

Over time, Pivi's bears dance their way into unexpected locations, from Aspen Mountain to the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas bringing with them a sense of humour and mischief. Life-sized polar bears, frozen in yoga poses or engaged in affectionate hugs, create a whimsical spectacle that sparks joy and curiosity. Pivi's artistic universe expands beyond conventional galleries and museums, reaching unsuspecting passersby and inviting them into a world where the boundary between reality and possibility is delightfully blurred.

However, their vibrant hues and playful antics also come with a deeper message of conservation and environmental awareness. The plight of bears, emblematic of the broader challenges faced by wildlife, is woven into the fabric of Pivi's work. These whimsical creations, simultaneously cute and ferocious, serve as ambassadors for a threatened ecosystem, urging audiences to reflect on the need for conservation efforts.

You are too cute by Paola Pivi. Image courtesy of Phaidon.

After spells on a remote Italian island and time spent living in India, Pivi now lives and works in Alaska. She has exhibited extensively, including a solo show, I Want It All, at The Andy Warhol Museum, in Pittsburgh, as well as at the High Line in New York.

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