It isn’t often I read a work of fiction and want to learn more about some of the characters but that is exactly what happened after I finished reading ‘The Museum of Modern Love’ (aka: MoML) by Australian author Heather Rose. Ms. Rose’s story uses performance artist Marina Abramovic’s 2010 MoMA retrospective “The Artist is Present” as the background against which her characters experience fear, sadness, doubt, loneliness, wonder, happiness, creativity, and love…
The story revolves around individual motivations, family dynamics, and art – three topics I am always interested in learning more about. The months-long performance piece by Ms. Abramovic, and Ms. Abramovic herself, are key characters to the plot against which all other characters revolve. Soundtrack musician Arky Levin has ‘lost’ his wife to a genetic illness, impacting his ability to create art and engage in life (often the same thing to an artist). Recently retired art teacher and widow Jane Miller finds herself in a similar emotional place, and travels to New York to experience the city and its art scene while creating a plan for the next phase of life. Arky and Jane, along with the other characters in MoML, find themselves drawn to the MoMA to interact with each other and the very real Ms. Abramovic and her The Artist is Present performance piece.
Between March and May 2010 the ‘grandmother of performance art’, Marina Abrmaovic, sat perfectly still and silent at a table placed in one of MoMA’s galleries while 1,565 individuals took turn sitting opposite her, meeting her gaze for minutes to hours while thousands more waited and watched from the sidelines. At some point in the performance Marina decided to remove the barrier of the table, which she credits with removing an emotional obstacle between the sitter and herself. By the end of the performance prospective sitters were camped outside the MoMA for days, hoping to gain a seat and stare into Marina’s eyes. All 1,565 individuals who sat with Marina were photographed by Marco Anelli (who plays the same role in MoML) becoming part of the piece itself.
Marina Abramovic, when asked why so many attendees became emotional when viewing her piece says, “I am just a trigger, I am just a mirror and actually they become aware of their own life, of their own vulnerability, of their own pain, of everything—and that brings the crying. [They are] really crying about their own self, and that is an extremely emotional moment.” In MoML Abramovic’s work was the trigger which allowed Arky and Jane to look deeply into their own selves to find out what each needed to create their next steps in life.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Museum of Modern Love and learning about Marina Abramovic and her art. If you want to read MoML for yourself you can find a copy of the book at your library, local independent bookstore or from Amazon. If you want to find out more about Marina you can check out MAI, her wiki page, or the rabbit hole of a Google. Here’s to the artists and the art they make in all of its forms with its endless ability to inspire us, heal us, and change us!
*Modern Love – David Bowie