Review: The Museum of Modern Love

The Stella Prize shortlist celebrates the six best fiction and non-fiction books written by Australian women, noted for their excellent, original and engaging prose.

In the six weeks leading up to the winner’s announcement on April 18 Sinéad Fogarty reviews each of these books for Hatch.

This week, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose.

Strict genres become putty in the hands of Heather Rose. Her fourth adult novel casts away the concreteness of fact and fiction, instead shaping them together as if warmed plasticine  – turning cast iron into clay.

An empire of onion bagels, black coffee and pizza by the slice. New York City hums behind the scenes of protagonist Arky Levin, perched in an apartment in Washington Square.

“He sat at the Steinway and, working up and down the keyboard, he teased out the melody he had glimpsed. He played as the city grew black and neon suffused the sky.”

An art-enthused visitant, neither god nor ghost, visits Arky amidst the 24-hour buzz of almost nine million people, plundering under the weight of an ever-soaring, yet starless, skyline.

“I watched him. There is nothing more beautiful than watching an artist at work. They are as waterfalls shot with sunshine.”

A floundering husband and father fading from his career as a soundtrack composer, Arky leaves the keys of his Model B Steinway and stumbles along to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where the essence of the story begins.

“But this is not a story of potential. It is a story of convergence. Such things are rarer than you might think… It is something that, once set in motion, will have an unknown effect. It is a human condition to admire hindsight. I always thought foresight was so much more useful.”

The Museum of Modern Love follows Arky Levin’s visits to MoMA to witness The Artist is Present – an exhibition by performance artist Marina Abramovic held from March 9 to May 31, 2010. Abramovic and four others in her entourage are real people who gave the author permission to include them as characters in her story.

Heather Rose displays a Dead Poets Society passion for Marina Abramovic. Though if you know nothing about her art, do not fear. This novel is an education, to say the least. By the last page you’ll become articulate, if not a fan, of her many performance artworks.

Rose has divided the novel into seven parts, filled with point-of-view chapters from other personalities in the gallery hub. She elegantly steps into each mind, creating present and powerful snapshots of periphery characters. Pages don’t wither away waiting for Rose to fix flesh to bone.

This is a multifaceted novel exploring love, loss and endurance. Mixing banality with brilliance, truth and fiction, time and its absence. It’s a curious, strange blob inviting the reader to first be still, then to take action.

“There are artists and there are facilitators. I bless the facilitators. They are the lubricants of the artistic process. The engine oil of creativity.” – Sinéad Fogarty

The Museum of Modern Love
By Heather Rose
Published by Allen & Unwin, 278pp. RRP $28

About Sinead Fogarty 18 Articles
Sinéad Fogarty is a Sydney-based writer and video journalist, interested in unearthing stories full of quirk and character. You'll often find her with her head in a book, or with ice speed skates on her feet.