The Museum of Modern Love -Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love was a great change of pace for me. This book was a little lighter, a little more playful than some of my more recent reads. It does however contain a fascinating concept that drew me in form the very beginning. This book follows the performance by artist Marina Abramovic called The Artist is Present and some of the people drawn in by this stunning and fascinating performance, most closely Arky, a film composer who is unwillingly separated from his wife and struggling to continue with life. This novel has been nominated for the Stella Prize and certainly lives up to the hype attached.


The performance of Marina involves her, the artist, sitting without movement in a wooden chair, six days a week, seven and a half hours a day for three months. There she sits making eye contact with whom ever chooses to take the chair opposite her for as long as they can stand. This topic fascinates me in large part due to the changing nature of society where by these days we tend to avoid eye contact. Think to sitting on the train, walking down the street people more and more avert their eyes from each other as they pass by, hiding behind their headphone and mobile devices.  The idea of extended eye contact, particularly with a stranger, is intimidating and uncomfortably personable. Just imagine how draining and emotional it would be to do so with person after person. In fact, I would recommend looking up clips from this performance on YouTube. I found myself with tears in my eyes from the raw emotion of it.


It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that Marina and The Artist is Present was based in truth and that this actually look place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Rose  demonstrates a strong knowledge and understanding of Marina and gives the reader a comprehensive history of her performances. Slipping this information into the plot so naturally that it doesn’t feel forced or rote. This novel is devoid of pretentiousness, a talent considering the plot revolves around performance art and a controversial artist. Marina’s work is stunning, fascinating and provides a true insight into a number of fascinating themes that occur within human nature. Rose does this in a way that is accessible to a reader with no background in art or art history.


The characters in this novel are superb. From the beginning I had a special love for Jane, even more so by the end of the story when we learn how her story concludes. Aspects of this character resonate with me as I see parts of myself in her. Her easy open manner. Jane is friendly, steadfast and unashamedly herself. Healayas was another highlight, she is very much the cool, confident goddess that all women aspire to be. Intelligent, charismatic and holding her own in a field dominant with men. her character stuck in my mind. Arky, the focus of the novel was fascinating. I enjoyed his journey across the novel as you watch his character develop as he slowly opens up, learning and gaining enlightenment. The reader cheers as he finally has his moment with Marina. I love that there are flashes of reality in other characters of the book, Brittika and her final actions, the man who sat for Marina twenty-one times and children sitting on the floor mimicking the actions of the artist.


I can see how the true performance attracted such numbers and attention and touches the lives of so many. There is a certainly vulnerability in this extended eye contact and you can only imagine the emotional toll it took on the artist, let along the physical consequences. Rose captures the feeling of what it is to sit for Marina and describes how it can manifest in different people in an eloquent and exquisite manner. Despite how intense the performance was and how difficult the lives are for the characters in it, Rose manages a certain lightness, a playfulness in the tone of the novel and instead it grows in retrospect after you finish reading. A great concept that provokes deeper thought The Museum of Modern Love quietly and stealthily blew my mind. I give this book five of Arky’s piano keys.


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