Magnus Sigurdarson is touching up a drawing on the back wall of his studio space at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA). These black-and-white drawings, vague North African desert scenes with camels and turbaned men, were shown at the Dorsch Gallery last year, but remain unfinished works.
His “studio” is also a work in progress, part of the second Trading Places II experimental program initiated by MOCA director Bonnie Clearwater almost a decade ago. She thought artists, the museum and the broader community could benefit from watching and interacting with artists at different stages of their careers, working for the whole world to see.
Sigurdarson’s space is the most exposed, set in the middle of the museum’s main gallery, surrounded by segregated spaces for four other artists. In acknowledgement of this stage he has been given, the often-whimsical Icelandic native has also set up a chair on a rotating pedestal. When visitors arrive, he might be sitting there spinning, chin in hand, a modern-day Rodin. Or Miami’s foremost Nordic performance artist.
Not surprisingly, he has been collaborating — impromptu — with another performance and video artist, Antonia Wright, who is working in a more enclosed room behind him. She has brought a bed and couch to her studio, inviting people to sit and stay a while.
This is all as it should be, according to Clearwater. She specifically picked this diverse, small group of artists so that they could bounce ideas off of each other, and challenge themselves to break boundaries. In the process, the public can watch the journey.
On this afternoon, Wright points to the inspirational notes she has pinned to one wall and left lying on the floor. She encourages visitors to scribble their own notes and add to the installation-in-progress. Wright is a photographer, filmmaker and performance artist. In a solo show last year, the Cuban-American artist exhibited a series of photos of herself dressed in those elaborate, expensive and way over-the-top quince gowns, which are likely to turn up in her space before the exhibit is finished. On this day, several of her videos are unspooling on the back wall. Wright’s video “Job Creation in a Bad Economy,” in which she and artist Ruben Millares continually crash through stacks of books, was a MOCA Optic Nerve film festival finalist last year, and apparently is a big hit now with the kids visiting the museum.
Wright says that she and Sigurdarson have been working on some short videos since their arrival, something that surprises and delights Clearwater on this afternoon.
“I didn’t even know that — that’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening in this program.” Wright is relatively young in her career, while Sigurdarson would be considered a mid-career artist, and he has wound up being a mentor to her during this residency.
In the back, Onajide Shabaka is working on a mural on a curved wall he asked to be specifically crafted for his space. Shabaka has been a fashion designer (in San Francisco back in the 1970s); a student of African-American burial art in Florida; a photographer, a draftsman, a teacher. Some of his walls here are black, and covered in cut-outs, acrylics on paper and pieces made from silk. Clearwater first picked him for a show in 1993 that she curated for the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.