Magnus Sigurdarson

 After more than a decade of searching for melancholy in paradise, Magnús Sigurðarson* throws in the towel with ADIOS MELANCHOLY - THE PARROTY OF LIFE. 


With this, the 3rd exhibition at Emerson Dorsch, conceptual artist Magnús Sigurðarson presents 6 large clay paintings of parrots, a video performance, and an installation. The opening reception will be September 22nd, 6-9pm at Emerson Dorsch, which is located at 5900 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, FL.


Magnús arrived at his emblem honestly. He often proclaims that his home country Iceland is the northern-most Caribbean island. He is not joking here (though there often is a joke, so pay attention): Iceland, along with the Caribbean Islands St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, were all once colonies of The Kingdom of Denmark. Not only did these islands have a distant sovereign in common, the Gulf Stream also connects them. The current draws warm water northward to the southern end of Iceland, making the southern end noticeably warmer. 


The parrot makes its home in Miami (Magnús’ home now), Iceland (his homeland) and the Caribbean (let’s acknowledge that Miami feels like the northern Caribbean not the Southern United States). Magnús writes that:

“One does not always understand the complexity of one's environment nor society in which one exists. For example, the iconic parrot, symbol of Florida sun and fun, is an immigrant, all native species of parrot were wiped out in the 1900's and the species that we now find in and associate with Miami and South Florida were all imported one way or another. Immigrants are the new mascot of Miami, the parrot searching for a home, the Icelander seeking melancholy, all species and immigrants at one point have to redefine their identity based on their current reality. While they will never be native, they will through time be blended into the pallet of their new home as the lines of identity are blurred, smudged, and redefined. This exhibition will be the beginning of a post-melancholic identity through the power of myth and occasional mayhem.”




Magnús’ exhibition represents the latest project in which he distills and abstracts his feelings of displacement.  Most previous projects in this vein deflected seriousness or dreariness with humor. One emblazoned slogans of enthusiasm, “Fabulous!” “Terrific!” and “Super!” on blow flags. The literally hollow exclamations are meant to ease the exchange of pleasantries rather than reflecting the well-being of the speaker.  As long as you keep up the pretense the conversation can float above the mire of what’s really going on. Another project, called Absenteeism at Dimensions Variable in 2011, was an installation of empty frames and stretcher bars. Magnús explained, “I didn’t have very much to say.” He is nothing if not humble. But he also has a way of getting at the crux of things with almost accidentally elegant simplicity. The installation of empty frames represented the armature of the art world, which is too often a shell game of braggadocio and posturing, so much that the art object can seem incidental. At first these projects read as a little kitschy. Themes of displacement resonate after interrogating the elements, their presentation and circumstance.



In 1001 Dreams of Occupation – What’s in it for me? at Emerson Dorsch in 2012, he pantomimed a protester at the train station in Opa Locka, a long faltered development with a Moorish theme in northwestern Miami. The project was presented soon after Arab Spring, and in the videos and stills Magnus was seen holding up a hand-lettered sign “Occupy My Dreams” and “ What’s In It for Me?” His one-man protests were pathetic on purpose, playing at the dis-interested Westerner who has no idea what is at stake for those protesting on the other side of the world. Seen now, the Occupation imagery reverberates against the context of new and mighty protest movements. The  Other frequently appears as an empty vision in white-Western-European fantasies, but where is the stake in the actual Other’s agency or condition? The one-man protester will always be alone if he can only fight for self-interest. 


Sigurðarson’s most achingly poignant piece to date was a performance at the conclusion of Trading Places II at Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012.  In Sleep My Baby Sleep/Soðou unga ástin min he sang a traditional Icelandic lullaby, accompanied by the choir of Our Lady of Perpetual Help of the Notre Dame Catholic Church conducted by Boniface Laurent. With this performance Magnús represented Icelandic melancholy directly, with no humor to deflect its force. In the context of Miami, the performance was beautiful but otherworldly, an import. Inhabitants of steam and sun could not understand that a parent might sing to his child of death, with a song sung at many bedtimes through the generations. Here is something different. That is the melancholy he’d been trying to tell us about. That is not here. 


The humor returned full force as Magnús borrowed some sadness from a famous Brazilian ballad. Once again, this southern sorrow was not quite the same as the northern melancholy, especially the way he presented it. Sigurðarson’s can’t get the other sadnesses right. Remember, failure is part of his method. In Rotating Renaissance Man, a performance at Vizcaya-fy or Bust!  at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in 2014, he stood on a rotating platform and sang “The Girl from Ipanema.” Dressed and painted as an Ancient Roman sculpture, complete with a toga and painted with a whitewash and painted flowers (the way Roman statuary was painted before the British whitewashed it), he held an enormous palm branch at his side. Meanwhile, a friend held back the hoards, limiting the audience in the room to two people at a time. This spectacle took place in Vizcaya’s Enclosed Loggia, an opulent room decorated to look like a 17thcentury Italian villa. 


With his latest project, Sigurðarson changed tack. When in Rome… He decided to immerse himself a version of melancholy very prevalent in Miami – the melodrama of the telenovela. CorazónVizcaya (2016), a short film commissioned for the Lost Spaces and Stories exhibition at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, took the form of the pilot of a telenovela (that could never be made) that told the fictional and never-ending story of Vizcaya and her family. In it, Magnús plays Vilhelm De’Vizcaya, the patriarch who is haunted by the specter of his dead daughter as the machinations and tribulations of his family swirl around him. Here the Icelander takes on melodrama as a mode that is sad, true, but beyond that, not at all the same as that elusive emotion. The humor here is to see our Icelandic friend cast in a milieu and mode that is so utterly different than his identity and project and with such abandon. The artist’s endless effort to find melancholy parallels the endlessness of telenovela stories. Sigurðarson’s melancholy project is defined by its failure, like a mathematical limit. 




With ADIOS MELANCHOLY, Sigurðarson once again accepts failure (for now). The pale marooned Icelander on South Beach is now at home in Miami’s Enchanted Forest. From his new seat of comfort, a content Sigurðarson reflects on his old angst. Its shadow could not survive in the sunlight. He has a little color in his cheeks now; he is fit; and he is in love. In a newly generous state of mind, he turns his attention to a flock of parrots, as they fly, squawking over the verdant canopy. He is inspired. 




Magnús Sigurðarson exposes his own vulnerability in discrete acts, each of them acknowledging the pathos of his (and our) being. With a self-deprecating sense of humor, Sigurdarson plays out his heightened awareness of being out of place in his characters as the painted singing Roman statue, the marooned Icelander on South Beach, the English Beefeater man in the streets of London, or a Union soldier on an Indian battlefield. His works employ a range of media, from interventions in public space and sculptural installations to intimate photographic and video work.


He has exhibited at Reykjavik Art Museum, the Icelandic Consulate in Berlin, Dimensions Variable, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Sigurdarson studied art at Studio Cecil and Graves, Florence, Italy (1988), The Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts (1992) and Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA (1997). He is a Fulbright Scholarship Recipient with multiple grants and awards. His works are included in the collections of Debra and Dennis Scholl, Miami Beach; Alberto Chebebar, Miami Beach; Collezione La Gaia, Busca, Italy, MDD – Museum Dhondt – Dhaenes, Gent, Belgium; The Icelandic National Gallery, Reykjavik; The Reykjavik Municipal Museum, Reykjavik; The Related Group, Miami and The Private Collection of Emmanuel Javogue, Miami. Magnús Sigurdarson is represented by Emerson Dorsch, Miami. He currently lives and works in Miami, Florida.


*Note that the English spelling of Magnús Sigurðarson is Magnus Sigurdarson.


Follow Magnús Sigurðarson on Artsy.