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The Museum of Modern Love

Narrated by: Laurel Lefkow
Length: 8 hrs and 1 min
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (177 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Our hero, Arky Levin, has reached a creative dead end. An unexpected separation from his wife was meant to leave him with the space he needs to work composing film scores, but it has provided none of the peace of mind he needs to create. Guilty and restless, it is almost by chance that he stumbles upon an art exhibit that will change his life.

Based on a real piece of performance art that took place in 2010, the installation that the fictional Arky Levin discovers is inexplicably powerful. Visitors to the Museum of Modern Art sit across a table from the performance artist Marina Abramovic, for as short or long a period of time as they choose. Although some go in skeptical, almost all leave moved. And the participants are not the only ones to find themselves changed by this unusual experience: Arky finds himself returning daily. As the performance unfolds over the course of 75 days, so, too, does Arky. Connecting with other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do. 

This is a book about art, but it is also about success and failure, illness, death, and happiness. It's about what it means to find connection in a modern world. And most of all, it is about love, with its limitations and its transcendence.

An iBooks bestseller. Winner of the 2017 Margaret Scott Prize. Winner of the 2017 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. Winner of the 2017 Stella Prize. Shortlisted for the Australian Literature Society's 2017 Gold Medal. Shortlisted for the 2017 University of Queensland Book Award for Fiction.

©2018 Heather Rose (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 08-25-19

The Art of Presence

In college, I spent a lot of time trying to think about Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Why I Am Not a Painter.” Part of that was because my father and O’Hara split the major Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan in 1950 – Dad won for prose and O’Hara for poetry – so that difference in genre seemed personal. And part of it was for the poem itself: what might it mean to go after a similar artistic statement in paint rather than words.

This novel explores a real-life conceptual artist’s work. Marina Abramovic sat at a table in a New York gallery for 75 days, and hundreds of people sat across from her briefly to meet her gaze. She was “present” to strangers, and it was an event that resonated. I was surprised to hear that even my children had heard of it.

It was also, it seems, powerful for the thousands who witnessed it, and Heather Rose has set out here to transform some of that experience from the performance genre to the novel.

As a result, this is both an effort to reclaim Abramovic’s original experiment – what does it feel like to be present for anyone who comes before you? – and an experiment in genre. It’s a little bit of what O’Hara was doing in trying to bring a painting into his poem.

I love that ambition, and I love that this novel works as well as it does to make Abramovic’s work resonate. I don’t know whether I’d have been moved by the actual experience of it, but I do know that I appreciate having it brought to me through multiple perspectives – including Abramovic’s own (thought much of that, I gather, is fictionalized from her biography).

Conceptually, then, this is more than worth it.

As a novel itself, though, it has its ups and downs. Our main protagonist is a composer of movie soundtracks. And, as such, he is himself invested in the work of transforming the images of cinema art into musical art.

Arky Levin is carrying a deep sadness. His best friend and closest collaborator has died in a recent car accident, and his wife is slowly dying from a wasting neurological disease. What’s more, because she remembers how devastated her father was when her mother died in similar fashion, she has fashioned a legal care document that denies him access to her. She’s left him all the money and resources he needs to continue his art, but he’s not allowed to come see her.

I get why that situation has emotional power here – and I get that it sets up an emotionally effective conclusion when [SPOILER:] Levin finally insists on visiting his nearly unconscious wife and being fully present for her as Abramovic has been for him – but I can’t escape the deeply contrived nature of it. The genuine power that Rose gives this is diminished by the clear artificiality of the barriers she’s thrown up for Levin.

There are a range of other characters too, most prominently a gentle woman from the South who’s lost her husband to cancer and sought distraction in New York. I love the way she and Levin bond over watching Abramovic watch others, and I love the way Rose conjures a sense of community among those who have been moved by the experience.

That said, though, I think the second half of this begins to run a little out of steam. The intense focus of the beginning, when Levin and his new friend forge a connection of mourners who can’t quite name their pain, gives way to other sub-plots that deal more with the world of art, its making, and its marketing. The characters that emerge there are ones, as I see it, who are less affected by the experience of the art than by the work of creating it. All that still works, but without quite the same beautiful edge of the opening chapters.

In any case, this is certainly a strong and moving work. It’s a reminder of how hard it is to open yourself to another’s pain, and that’s worth exploring in every medium we have.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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I Only Finished Listening Because My Book Club Selected It

The novel was well written but an agony to finish. I found it pretentious. Furthermore, none of the characters spoke to me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A grown up book for grown up people.

Thought you would know yourself by 50? Guess what...age doesnt provide the answers, just better articulated questions. Read this novel and let author Heather Rose, help. The insights and reflections will hit home. Whatever your age, we all need love.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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interesting concept that lost me along the way.

I started this over twice, just so I could get all the characters straight. maybe a third time would help? since the narration is constant without dialogue, it's difficult to keep what is happening straight.
it's the kind of story better read than heard, as it requires too much sustained concentration. Or at least more than I could muster. Go for it if you have dedicated, no other distraction, listening time.

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A true gem

The prose is exquisite and the structure of the novel is perfect. The narration does nothing but make it better.
Its hard for me to describe this book to a potential reader, because it is unlike anything I've ever read. Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present" is at the heart of the book. There are a number of characters all related in someway to the work and the artist. Their connections unfold slowly, and beautifully. By the end I felt a deep sense of satisfaction with all of them and a great sense of peace. I finished the book a week ago, and have listened to another great book in the meantime. However, I keep returning to this book in my mind. Its a keeper and one I will return to. For me it was in some ways trans-formative.

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Encourages thought about 'what is art'

From the title, I would not have selected this audible. After reading the description and some of the reviews, I selected this audible book, and am glad I did. I read about the MoMA exhibit 'The Artist is Present', yet did not give much thought to it, other than to read a bit about the artist. This book is both about the observer and the artist. Philosophical questions from both sides emerge. As the reader/listener is another outside observer, this gives yet another vantage to posed life questions. All in all, listening to the audible was well-spent thought provoking time.

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smARTly told

I will undoubtedly listen to this again. A thoughtful novel featuring wealthy talented adults navigating life’s struggles with art, death and interconnection - all woven in around the, true to life, intriguing performance art of Marina Abramovic. What I enjoyed best was learning more about this amazing artist and her own real history - all well read and told.

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  • Aliza
  • Rural New Hampshire
  • 08-15-19

A beautiful meditation on art, life, and risk.

This book slowly won me over. As an artist, I deeply appreciated the intuition and love that illuminated this book. I was also moved to hear that the author battles with considerable pain from arthritis. These are not facile insights. If you, in turn, love the life of art and art of life, I believe you may love this book the way I do.

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Extraordinary

Beautiful, engaging, and written with true wordsmanship. This book champions the endurance & the fragility of the human spirit. It honors the love and the pain that make us real.

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Loved it!

The author drew me in immediately and the story spoke to me. I will probably listen to this again in the future. Excellent narration.