“The Museum of Modern Love” by Heather Rose: A Wondrously Original Novel Inspired by Marina Abramović

“Creative people have to be fundamentally egoistic. This may sound pompous, but it happens to be the truth.” observes Haruki Murakami in Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa (mentioned in December 2019). Marina Abramović  (@MarinaxAbramovic) is a walking, talking, breathing embodiment of creative stubbornness (check out her sites: www.marinaabramovic.commai.art and this interview on the Independent for more information.)

Born in Belgrade, Serbia (Yugoslavia) in 1946, she is the world’s foremost performance artist. “Performance art” is different from “performing arts”. How? The artist has explained succinctly – in performing arts, blood is ketchup. In performance art, blood is blood. I first learnt about her in 2012 while watching a lecture delivered by one of my professors.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012), HBO Documentary Films
Marina Abramović (with the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art she received in 2008) at the screening of Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present during the Vienna International Film Festival 2012, Gartenbaukino by User “Manfred Werner”, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Over the past few decades, Abramović has explored the potentials of her body and tested the limits of her endurance. She has put herself in mortal danger. In her 1974 act Rhythm 0 held in Naples, Abramović placed 72 objects that could give pleasure and inflict pain on a table – a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, olive oil, scissors, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet – and allowed the members of the audience to use them on her any way they wanted. In 1988, she ended her romantic and creative relationship with artist Ulay (born Frank Uwe Laysiepen in West Germany in 1943) – whom she had met in 1976 in Amsterdam – by walking the Great Wall of China. In the act Lovers, Ulay started from the Gobi Desert and Abramović from the Yellow Sea. After 2500 km, they met in the middle and said good-bye.

Of late, Marina Abramović has been in the news for her performance The Artist is Present that took place in MoMA, New York from March 14May 31, 2010 and was attended by 850,000 people. She sat on a chair for over 736 hours in total through 75 days and silently looked into the eyes of 1554 strangers seated opposite her. Some were uncomfortable. Many simply wept.

Interestingly, Tasmanian author Heather Rose (Facebook) has come up with a book called The Museum of Modern Love (2016) that revolves around The Artist is Present. It is an inventive hybrid of fact and fiction – much like Everyone is Watching by British writer Megan Bradbury. The book, written with the permission of the artist, won the 2017 Stella Prize in Australia.

I will get to the book below, first three videos on Abramović:


The Museum of Modern Art: A Novel Inspired by Marina Abramović by Heather Rose (2016, Allen and Unwin)

In The Museum of Modern Love, as Marina Abramović invites people into an energy dialogue with her, they take a moment to just remain themselves and turn into courageous things.

One of the viewers of the show is Arky Levin, a film composer whose wife is away, in a nursing home. Lydia has left him so that he can work without distractions. Arky is caught between feelings of freedom (he can fully exercise his creativity) and guilt (he wife is sick and by abandoning her, isn’t he being selfish?). In MoMA, he meets Jane Miller, a teacher – sad and lonely, visiting New York from the state of Georgia. She has lost her husband Karl recently. She is somewhat haunted by the idea that she had not spent enough time seeing Karl for “all he was” when he was alive and around.

Arky and Jane collide. More characters crop up – a Ph.D. student, an art critic, the artist’s agents…as person after person is overcome with emotion and transported to another realm before Abramović.

Heather Rose’s luminous prose dwells upon questions of life and death, the randomness of tragedy, and of course, the nature and value of art. Memories of Yugoslavian bloodbaths, details of the artist’s childhood, youth, family and past shows form part of the narrative. Ultimately, we have visions of sand dunes, white rooms. Bright light. Crying, cheering, clapping. A symphony. Yet another gaze. Intense and electric. As people begin to look deep into each after having looked deep into Abramović, we can conclude the artist has indeed been too beautiful a present.


My favourite bits –

On the passing of life and the arrival of death:

What was the space beyond? Jane wondered. What did the rush of air between life and death taste of? Did crashing to the ground at velocity move you deeper, faster into death than simply dying in your sleep? And if you were under the influence of morphine did you go whole or did you depart in pieces, leaving fragments of yourself floating about in the room? She had wondered a lot about that after Karl’s death. How could she ensure all his best parts went with him? Little bits of him seemed to remain. In her head she said his name over and over, as if making up for the fact that she rarely said it aloud any more. She missed him achingly, gapingly, excruciatingly.


“Did crashing to the ground at velocity move you deeper, faster into death than simply dying in your sleep?” (Photo: Pexels)


On the relationship between art and pain:

Art creates a certain familiarity with loneliness. And possibly with pain. Physical, mental, it doesn’t really matter. It’s call a catalyst. I don’t like to admit that because it’s depressing, but in truth pain is the stone that art sharpens itself on time after time.

On the struggles of female artists:

I have seen young women gifted beyond measure–Sofonisba Anguissola at just twenty years of age, Catharina van Hemessen too, Clara Peeters at just thirteen. All of them born before the year 1600. Seek out their paintings if you do not know them. Each had a father who understood their promise and celebrated their value. Each had a mother with talent, too, but a life of housekeeping, wifery and childbearing expected of her. So many women were neither offered nor were able to acquire paint or palette, canvas, ink, tuition, paper, time. And so we have the great imbalance.


“…but a life of housekeeping, wifery and childbearing expected of her. ” (Photo: Pixabay)




Despite it being 2010, Francesca [the wife of Marina’s agent, Dieter] was surprised how often she had to defend the desire for success in a woman. If anything, it ought to be encouraged, Francesca thought. How tired she was, after all they had fought for, to find the ambitious woman still painted as the femme fatale, lacking in empathy, selfish, threatening–no matter how much she gave of herself to the world. It was ridiculous but it was still there.

See books by Marina Abramović: Walk Through Walls: A Memoir (2016), Marina Abramovic: The Cleaner (2017) and Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life (2015).


Image Credit:

Featured: “Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present,” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, through May 31, 2010. Opening preview: March 9, 2010 by User “Andrew Russeth”, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr



2 thoughts on ““The Museum of Modern Love” by Heather Rose: A Wondrously Original Novel Inspired by Marina Abramović

Comments are closed.