The Museum of Modern Love

Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love
Allen & Unwin
28 March 2018

The Museum of Modern Love

Heather Rose

Winner of the 2017 Stella Prize.

‘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.


I pounced on The Museum of Modern Love as soon as I heard about its subject matter: the performance artist Marina Abramovic. Written by Australian author Heather Rose, this blend of fact and fiction centres on those two and a half months in 2010 when Abramovic staged perhaps her most famous work, The Artist is Present, at MOMA in New York. For the duration of the exhibition, Abramovic sat silently in a chair while members of the public were invited one by one to sit opposite the artist for an unspecified period. The apparent simplicity of the piece (although a monumental feat of endurance for Abramovic) struck a chord with many and soon people were camping out overnight for their chance to sit with Marina. The Museum of Modern Love follows the impact of those 75 days from a variety of viewpoints: a composer, a widow, a PhD student, an art reviewer, a ghost, a muse and Abramovic herself.

Reaction to art is of course personal and similarly the response to this novel may vary, but I adored it and it is my book of the year so far. It’s true that the subject matter is fascinating in itself but Heather Rose deserves credit for taking the initial inspiration to create her own thoughtful, multi-layered work; deftly grabbing the reader’s attention right from the beginning and sustaining the multiple narrative threads throughout. The theme of connection is predominant and I found the most significant part of the novel to be how the characters respond to the exhibition and whether they are able to take that experience into their own lives (i.e. truly connect art to life). This is ultimately a book for Abramovic fans (if you need some background try the excellent documentary also entitled The Artist is Present) but also for those who love New York and the arts in general.

Amanda Rayner

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