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The Museum of Modern Love

Heather Rose has produced a paean of praise to the power of modern art in The Museum of Modern Love. It follows the artistic meandering of Arky Levin as he wanders (of his own volition or at the behest of something more mysterious?) into the Museum of Modern Art and witnesses Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present.

Levin connects the cast of characters, his friends, family and other spectators of the performance art as they are all observed by an other-worldly narrator, changed and challenged. Conversations with PhD students and strangers turn into amiable explorations of the nature of art and what Abramović is trying to achieve with her performance.

Ultimately the characters that pass through the atrium of MOMA are all searching for some kind of connection, but whether The Artist is Present is about that connection, or about performance, perseverance, exposure or transformative acts, is left delightfully up for debate.

Marina Abramović has ascended to the pantheon of deified modern artists, and this exploration of the effect of her performance piece at New York City’s MOMA is illustration of her omnipotence.

Rose’s book is a respectful and engaging recreation of a fictional Abramović, whose decades of work have left her a rare enigmatic figure of the art world, an eccentric and moving artist. The intimacy of her performance is not hard to grasp, as the atmosphere Rose creates around it effectively communicates the unique experience that sitting with the artist became.

Chapters delving into Abramović’s mind are sensitive and revealing, contextualising the life that culminated in almost three months of sitting still in the museum atrium. The weight of her personality is reflected wonderfully in the omnipotent narrative voice, succeeding in being charming in its mysterious nature where it could easily be isolating.

Marina’s feats of artistic endurance obviously illustrate a formidable strength of character, and the novel is at its heart an exploration of different kinds of endurance. All Rose’s characters are working through their own struggles, be they artistic, familial or more personal. Love also sits as a central theme, its different manifestations prevalent enough that this cavalcade of characters could furnish the titular museum of modern love.

Rose has created a loving meditation on art and music; her delicate observations on life are beautiful and charming. The text is an unselfconscious celebration of art and the power it holds, sometimes inexplicable and often disarming. She describes artists as “waterfalls shot with sunshine,” in characteristically lyrical prose.

This novel is like a breath of calm despite being set in the frenetic New York City, with its quirks and characters that grow with the progress of the central performance. It is a rumination on the nature of art that rings with Abramović’s strength; that formidable figure in pursuit of sublime connection.

AuthorHeather Rose
PublisherAllen & Unwin
DistributorAllen & Unwin
ReleasedSeptember 2016