‘Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.’ — Stella AdlerEpigraph, The Museum of Modern Love
Heather Rose is an Australian writer. The Museum of Modern Love is her seventh novel but her first published in the United States. It won the Stella Award in 2017 and was published in the U.S. in 2018.
I was immediately drawn into the characters and their situations. Rose’s plot revolves around a real-life performance exhibition called “The Artist Is Present” by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2010. Abramovic is known for her controversial performance and endurance exhibitions. With Abramovic’s blessing, Rose used “The Artist Is Present” to help structure The Museum of Modern Love.
In “The Artist is Present” Abramovic sits at a table in a ball gown for 75 days / 736 hours during MoMA’s open hours. Museum-goers are welcome to sit at the table across from her, one at a time. Some volunteers last a few minutes, others sit for hours. The only requirements are that they sit in the designated chair and maintain eye contact with Abramovic. No talking is allowed. As the exhibition gains in popularity and intrigue, big-name entertainers come to sit with Abramovic.
Rose introduces all of this in her novel but the main action of her story is what’s going on around and because of this performance.
Although there’s no talking between Abramovic and museum goers, in Rose’s novel there’s plenty of talking on the sidelines. Characters speculate about what the what and the why of what they’re seeing. Some make quick and harsh judgments. Others completely dismiss the exhibit. Many think its interesting but quickly move on. A few become enthralled to the point of obsession and these are the characters who make up the heart of the novel.
A few of the primary characters are:
— A film composer from NYC who is working on a score but is blocked, in part, due to decisions his wife has made.
— A middle school art teacher from Georgia who is grieving for her husband.
— A graduate student from the Netherlands who was originally adopted from China as an infant and is writing her dissertation on Abramovic.
Their paths cross at the exhibition and their lives are forever altered by the experience of Abramovic’s art and their interactions with one another.
The Museum of Modern Love is a moving story about art & creativity and love & relationships. Art and love are vital to humans, yet creative expression and fulfilling relationships can be such challenges for us. Heather Rose’s novel is a beautiful exploration of the tensions, misinterpretations, sacrifices, and joys of love and art.
A novel about the New York City art scene isn’t a book that I’d normally gravitate toward. I read The Museum of Modern Love because of two reading challenges: the Australian Woman Writers Challenge and Mel’s Bookland Adventures The Read Around the World Book Club.
I enjoy reading challenges because they’ve lead to some excellent reads that I would have missed on my own. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose is one such novel. It’s a novel I could have started reading again as soon as I turned the last page. I also talked about it on Episode 75 of the Book Cougars starting around minute 16.
- Title: The Museum of Modern Love
- Author: Heather Rose
- Publisher: Originally published in Australia by Allen & Unwin on September 1, 2016 | Edition I read was published in the U.S. by Algonquin Books on November 27, 2018
- Source: Library copy
- Bottom Line: If you like novels about artists & creativity and/or books that help you think about what life is all about, this one is probably right up your alley.