The Museum of Modern Love

By Heather Rose Allen & Unwin

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.


Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love is Heather Rose’s seventh book. Her work spans adult literary fiction, children’s literature, fantasy/sci-fi and crime. Her previous novels include White Heart (1999), The Butterfly Man (2005) and The River Wife (2009). She is co-author (with Danielle Wood) of the acclaimed Tuesday McGillycuddy series for children (written under the pen-name Angelica Banks and published internationally).

Heather won the Davitt Award in 2006, and her work has been shortlisted for the Nita B. Kibble Award and the Aurealis Awards, and longlisted for the IMPAC Award. She was a recipient of Varuna’s Eleanor Dark Fellowship and was the inaugural Writer in Residence at the Museum of Old and New Art (MoNA) in Hobart from 2012 to 2013 where she did much of the research for The Museum of Modern Love. Heather is currently studying Fine Arts at UTAS.

Judges' report


The Museum of Modern Love is an exceptional novel that reimagines Marina Abramovic’s 2010 performance of ‘The Artist is Present’, in which she silently encountered individual members of a larger audience of viewers while seated in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The performance itself was an intensely compelling exhibition of the power of silence and vision, and Heather Rose develops a suite of intersecting characters, all visitors to the performance, all subject to their own daily routines, to the possibilities of conversation and restitution, to hope and bereavement, to a need for internal guidance and meaning.

The novel is grounded in the everyday lives of a rich and compelling cast of characters, but it also transmutes the intensity and significance of Abramovic’s work into the medium of literature, where people move, in their thoughts, conversations and memories, between everyday life and art, as the modest confrontation of the artist’s gaze in her performance stimulates each character’s individual confrontation with questions that lie at the heart of their own lives. This novel is an unusual and remarkable achievement, a meditation on the social, spiritual and artistic importance of seeing and being seen, and listening for voices from the present and past that may or may not be easy to hear.

It is rare to encounter a novel with such powerful characterisation, such a deep understanding of the consequences of personal and national history, such affection for a city and the people who are drawn to it, and such dazzling and subtle explorations of the importance of art in everyday life.

Further reading


Reviews:

‘From its conception to its last page, the book challenges our perceptions of where life ends and art begins (if they were ever separate to begin with). As readers, we sometimes find ourselves in the atrium, keenly observing from the periphery, or we find ourselves pulled along in the currents of all these connected lives. When the book is at its most powerful, we’re also invited into the centre, asked if we’d like to take a seat and meet the gaze.’ Dominic Smith, The Australian

The Museum of Modern Love is more than just that rare treat, a book that requires something of the reader – it is a book that painstakingly prepares you for its own requirements. In a playful way, this bold new novel by Heather Rose is an astute meditation on art, bravery, friendship, love, how to live, and on dying.’ Louise Swinn, Sydney Morning Herald

‘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).’ Amanda Rayner, Readings

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