The Museum of Modern Love


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A novel inspired by performance artist Marina Abramović.


Art will wake you up. Art will break your heart. There will be glorious days. If you want eternity you must be fearless.


Arky Swann is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has made him promise to keep a terrible secret.

One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramović in her performance The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky as he considers marriage, art and the nature of commitment and love over a long-term union.

Eleven years in the making, author Heather Rose came across the work of Marina Abramović at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2005. In 2010 Heather’s commitment to the novel took her to New York where she became part of the Abramović performance The Artist is Present, sitting opposite Marina on four occasions.

Marina Abramović has given Heather permission to use her as a character in The Museum of Modern Love and, at David Walsh’s invitation, Heather read a section of the novel to Marina at a public performance for MONA in Hobart in 2015.  

“Marina’s art is all about endurance,” says Heather, “and The Museum of Modern Love has exacted the same from me. It has been a huge gift in understanding the courage and fearlessness that endurance takes.”

The result is a dazzlingly original novel that asks beguiling questions about the nature of art, life and love and finds a way to answer them.


A sample from chapter 1 published by Allen & Unwin. 

Find the Buy link at the bottom of the page to purchase the novel.


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The Museum of Modern Love is Heather Rose's 7th novel which won the 2017 Stella Prize, one of Australia's most prestigious literary awards. Her novels span adult literary fiction, children's literature, fantasy/sci-fi and crime. Heather's previous novels are White Heart (1999), The Butterfly Man (2005) and The River Wife (2009). Heather also writes the acclaimed Tuesday McGillycuddy series for children (written under the pen-name of Angelica Banks with fellow-author Danielle Wood and published internationally). The series is Finding Serendipity (2013), A Week Without Tuesday (2015) and Blueberry Pancakes Forever (2016). Heather won the Davitt Award in 2006 and her work has been shortlisted for the Nita B Kibble Award and the Aurealis Awards, and longlisted for the IMPAC Awards. She is also a recipient of the international Eleanor Dark Fellowship.

Heather was the inaugural Writer in Residence at The Museum of Old and New Art (MoNA) in Hobart 2012-13 where she did much of the research for The Museum of Modern Love. Heather is currently studying Fine Arts at UTAS.

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From Chapter 1

HE WAS NOT MY FIRST musician, Arky Levin. Nor my least successful. Mostly by his age potential is squandered or realised. But this is not a story of potential. It is a story of convergence. Such things are rarer than you might think. Coincidence, I’ve heard, is God’s way of being discreet. But convergence is more than that. 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.

It is the spring of the year 2010 and one of my artists is busy in a gallery in New York City. Not the great Metropolitan, nor the Guggenheim, serene and twisted though she is. No, my artist’s gallery is a white box. It’s evident that within that box much is alive. And vibrating. But before we get to that, let me set the scene.

There is a river on either side of this great city and the sun rises over one and sets over the other. Where oak, hemlock and fir once stood besides lakes and streams, avenues now run north– south. Cross streets mostly run east–west. The mountains have been levelled, the lakes have been filled. The buildings create the most familiar skyscape of the modern world.


The pavements convey people and dogs, the subway rumbles and the yellow cabs honk day and night. As in previous decades, people are coming to terms with the folly of their investments and the ineptitude of their government. Wages are low, as are the waistbands of jeans. Thin is fashionable but fat is normal. Living is expensive, and being ill is the most costly business of all. There is a feeling that a chaos of climate, currency, creed and cohabitation is looming in the world. On an individual basis, most people still want to look good and smell nice, have friends, be comfortable, make money, feel love, enjoy sex and not die before their time.

And so we come to Arky Levin. He would like to think he stands apart from the riffraff of humanity, isolated by his fine musical mind. He believed, until recently, that he was anaesthet- ised to commonplace suffering by years of eating well, drinking good wine, watching good movies, having good doctors, being loved by a good woman, having the luck of good genetics, and generally living a benign and blameless life.

It is 1 April, but Levin, in his apartment on Washington Square, is oblivious to the date and its humorous connotations. If someone played a practical joke on him this morning, he would be confused—possibly for hours. The morning sun is spilling into the penthouse. Rigby, a grey rug of cat, lies sprawled on her back on the sofa with her paws stretched high above her head. In contrast, Levin is curled forward over a Model B Steinway, his fingers resting silently on the keyboard. He is so still he might be a puppet awaiting the first twitch of the string above. In fact, he is waiting for an idea. That is usually where I come in, but Levin has not been himself for many months. To write music he must hurdle over a morass of broken dreams. Every time he goes to leap, he comes up short.

Levin and I have known each other a very long time, and when he is like this he can be unreachable, so caught on the wheel of memory he forgets he has choices. What is he remem- bering now? Ah yes, the film dinner from the night before.

He had expected questions. It was why he’d avoided everyone, hadn’t attended a function since December. It was still too raw. Too impossible. For the same reason he’d ignored emails, avoided phone calls and finally unplugged the answering machine in February after one particularly upsetting message.

And then last night, in a living nightmare, three of them had got him at one end of the room and harangued him, berated him. Outrageous claims of abandonment and lack of responsibility.

‘You don’t seem to realise I had no choice in this,’ he had told them. 

‘You’re her husband. If it was the other way around . . .’

‘Her instructions are perfectly clear. This is what she wants. Do I have to send you a copy of the letter?

‘But, Arky, you’ve abandoned her.’

‘No, I haven’t. If anyone has been abandoned . . .’

‘Please tell me you are not suggesting, Arky, that you have the raw deal here?

‘You can’t just leave her there.’

‘Well, what exactly did you have in mind?’ he had asked. ‘That I bring her home?’ 

‘Yes, for God’s sake. Yes.’

They had all seemed stunned at his reluctance.

‘But she doesn’t want that.’

‘Of course she does. You’re being unbelievably blind if you think anything else.’

He had excused himself, walked the twenty blocks in a rage, aware also that he was weeping and grateful for the handkerchief he never went anywhere without. The bitter taste of helplessness lingered on his tongue. He scratched at the rough patch on his hand that might be cancer. He thought of the night sweats too. Waking drenched at 3 am. Having to change his soaked pyjamas and slide over to the other, empty side of the bed where the sheets were dry. He wondered if it was his heart. If he died in the apart- ment it could be days before anybody noticed. Except Rigby, who would possibly settle on his corpse until she realised he was not getting up to feed her. It would be Yolanda, their housekeeper, who would find him. Yolanda had been in their life for years. Ever since they were married. Lydia had thought it as normal to employ a maid as keeping milk in the fridge. She had stayed on, Yolanda, through the move to Washington Square. Levin never liked to be home when Yolanda came. Lydia was good at small talk with shop people and teachers and tradespeople. Levin was not.

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Julie Chevalier

Makes me want to keep reading and reading. I'm especially curious because I attended and participated in Marina Abramovic's piece at the Biennale of Sydney two years ago.


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