2017 Reviews · Australian · culture · fiction · literary

Book Review: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Title: The Museum of Modern Lovemuseum small.jpg

Author:  Heather Rose

Published: September 1st 2016

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 296

Genres:  Fiction,  Literary

RRP: $27.99

Rating: 5 stars

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.

My review:

In 2010 a unique moving art performance titled ‘The Artist is Present’ was performed by Marina Abramovic at MoMA in New York for 75 days straight. This unique modern art experience is the driving force behind the story The Museum of Modern Love.

The Museum of Modern Love is Heather Rose’s reimagining of the highly acclaimed moving art performance, staged at the infamous MoMA in New York, performed by artist Marina Abramovic. More than just a commentary on the continual three month performance, this novel delves further than imagined and provides an insight into the members of the public that came to partake in this performance. Some we learn simply observed and sat with Marina Abramovic. While others were irrevocably changed by their exchange with Marina. One of these main patrons is Arky Levin, a film composer. Arky is separated from his wife Lydia but we learn she has requested one last shocking promise. Arky is drawn to the exhibition piece, The Artist is Present. Slowly the performance gets under Arky’s skin, as he watches and comes into contact with the other patrons drawn to this unique exhibit. Eventually, The Artist is Present offers Arky more than he ever could have bargained for. It gives him a purpose, direction and a future, all rolled into one.

It is easy to see why The Museum of Modern Love was awarded the highly coveted 2017 Stella Prize. This is a special and a one-of-a-kind novel. From the very opening of the novel, the reader is thrust into an active role, where they are able to engage in a process of self examination. Rose puts the spotlight on life, art and human nature. These are big questions but when a book challenges you to do this from the outset and continues until the close of the novel, it is something exceptional. This is the type of novel you want to savour over, it demands to be read in a slower fashion, it is impossible to race through The Museum of Modern Love. Rather, it is best to accept the pace of the novel and submit to its ability to whisk you away nonchalantly.

Although I am appreciative of the arts, I can’t say my knowledge of the moving arts is very extensive. Hence, Marina Abramovic and her performance The Artist is Present has flown under the radar for me sadly, until the brilliant Australian novelist, Heather Rose brought my attention to this performance, through her prize winning novel. This aspect of the novel, which plays a significant role in moving the narrative forward, has worked to ignite my interest in Marina Abramovic’s work, MoMA and the sector of moving arts as a whole. I loved the way this performance gently shapes the novel, but it is never truly reliant on it as the basis of the narrative. Rather, the wonderful and eclectic mix of likeable characters work to fill this area.

Heather Rose’s characters are sculpted with a fine hand. Arky Levin is a gentle soul that I genuinely enjoyed spending time with as the novel progressed. The evolution of his character is such as joy to read. He is supported by a bevy of characters that move in and out of the narrative, who offer the reader a range of emotions to experience from sorrow to hope. Some linger longer than others, such as Jane, but all are terrible endearing. Rose deftly balances a number of character perspectives in The Museum of Modern Love. It is never sake of being overloaded by any means by the various characters. Instead, I found myself completely fascinated by the range of responses to the exhibit piece, The Artist is Present, which is perhaps indicative of human nature. Rose really has her finger on the pulse in this aspect of her moving and introspective narrative.

Rose is a rare talent and an accomplished storyteller that I am glad to have been introduced to through my reading of The Museum of Modern Love. This is a novel that is grounded in the arts, with a mesmerising backdrop of one of the most fascinating exhibits staged in modern moving art. It makes us feel comfortable enough to examine fundamental aspects in our daily lives and the things that matter; connection, the value of life, love, hope and humanity. One for literary fiction fiends and for fans of the arts.

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose was published on September 1st 2016 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Museum of Modern Love, Heather Rose, visit here.


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