The Museum of Modern Love…
A mesmerising literary novel about a lost man in search of connection – a meditation on love, art and commitment, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest art events in modern history, Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present.
‘This is a weirdly beautiful book.’ David Walsh founder and curator, MONA
‘Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.’ Stella Adler
‘Art will wake you up. Art will break your heart. There will be glorious days. If you want eternity you must be fearless.’ From The Museum of Modern Love
She watched as the final hours of The Artist is Present passed by, sitter after sitter in a gaze with the woman across the table. Jane felt she had witnessed a thing of inexplicable beauty among humans who had been drawn to this art and had found the reflection of a great mystery. What are we? How should we live?
If this was a dream, then he wanted to know when it would end. Maybe it would end if he went to see Lydia. But it was the one thing he was not allowed to do.
Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.
This dazzlingly original novel asks beguiling questions about the nature of art, life and love and finds a way to answer them.
The Museum of Modern Love begins with the following:
I connected with this list instantly and once I had reached the end of the novel, I found this list to be almost synonymous with the story arc and character journeys, particularly that of Arky Levin and Jane Miller, who were both easy to like and entirely relatable.
There is quite a cast of characters in this novel, many of whom get the opportunity to put their POV forward. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the story; in the hands of a skilled writer such as Heather Rose, presenting multiple perspectives enriched the reading experience enormously.
While on the topic of POV, there were two characters that stood out, not only for their uniqueness, but also for their convincing reality, which was quite remarkable considering they were not real at all. The ghost of Marina Abramovic’s mother, and an artist’s Muse. At least, I think it was a Muse. Perhaps it was whatever the individual reader wanted it to be, and if this is the case, then for me, it was most definitely a Muse.
The Muse had all sorts of wisdom and advice to impart at key points throughout the novel. There were some absolutely brilliant lines:
“Artists run their fingers over the fabric of eternity.”
“Beware the artist who believes they have failed, their genius gone unrecognised or unrewarded in the precise way they demanded, and so turns to teaching.”
My favourite of all:
“I have acquired the habit of never saying too much. And the trick of dropping in, rapping on the door of their minds in the moment before waking, in the moment of solitude staring out a window, in a cafe where everything for a moment stops, under a tree watching sunlight, when life is a set of dominoes falling into place or a single moment of revelation about what comes next.”
I lingered over this novel, taking far longer to read it than I normally would for a novel twice its length, but it was so achingly beautiful, so significant, so truthful for artists of all mediums; it would have been a literary crime to race through it.
I knew very little about performance art prior to reading this novel and I hadn’t heard of Marina Abramovic at all, so overall, this was quite an experience of enlightenment. Heather Rose presented this artist, pieces of her life, and her history of work in great detail, carefully weaving it into the narrative and dialogue, informative, yet never coming across as an art history lesson. I learnt a great deal while reading this novel and feel richer for the experience.
Recent winner of the 2017 Stella Prize, The Museum of Modern Love is a brilliant novel, not only for those who love art or are artists themselves; it’s a novel about being human, in all its pain and glory. It’s a deeply contemplative novel about love and life.
I loved it.
The Museum of Modern Love is book 25 of my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose”
Enjoyed your review, Theresa. I loved that, like me, you wanted to linger over this book. And I love the quotes you’ve chosen, particularly the one from the Muse about “rapping on the door of their minds” etc. I also thought that I’d like to have looked at those 7 project points of Marina’s and the seven parts of the book and discuss the novel’s trajectory, but decided it was that, or read more books, so decided to get on with reading the next book!! (The lazy option in other words.)
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I would have read that reflection eagerly but I can certainly see where you’re coming from in terms of the time it would take. It’s certainly a prize worthy novel, that’s for sure.
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It is, and did you know – I listened this week to the interview on ABC Radio – that she started working on it in 2005, years, in other words, BEFORE The Artist is Present. She has been fascinated by Abramović for a long time!
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I didn’t know that! Clearly an evolving novel.
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