Pin It
Marina Abramovic 'THE KITCHEN VIII'
Marina Abramovic, ‘THE KITCHEN VIII’

The novel inspired by and featuring Marina Abramović that you need to read

The Museum of Modern Love is inspired by the pioneering Serbian artist’s captivating work

Marina Abramović, the radically creative, groundbreaking Serbian performance artist, has inspired a novel in which she also appears as a character. Australian author Heather Rose’s novel, The Museum of Modern Love, came out in 2017 but is getting more widely released. 

Love is the eternal muse for so many great artists and writers, not least for Abramović, whose former relationship with fellow artist, Ulay, played out through her provocative performance pieces – think sucking air out of each other’s mouths until they passed out, and one aiming a taut loaded bow at the other’s heart. The Museum of Modern Love centres on Abramović’s installation at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2010. Abramović silently sat at a table for seven hours a day, six days a week, opposite a member of the public who returned her unflinching gaze.

Rose initially thought her novel would depict an artist inspired by Abramović, but after sitting opposite Abramovic for herself at the show, Rose’s idea changed to include Abramović as a direct character. Rose sat opposite the artist three more times and interviewed many of the audience members who had watched or participated in the performance.

The novel revolves around Arky Levin, a composer who listlessly wanders around New York, musing on the dissatisfaction he feels about life and love. His life is changed when he chances upon Abramovic’s installation at the MoMA, returning to see it everyday. Another character captivated by the artist’s performance is Jane, a tourist and grieving widow whose sitting with the artist acts as catharsis. The novel follows many different characters, all of whom are linked by their transformative response to Abramović’s work.

Much of her work is explored throughout the novel, including one of her most celebrated pieces, “Breathing in/Breathing out”. In the performance, she and Ulay sat intertwined, noses blocked by cigarette filters and lips constantly locked as they breathed into each other, both eventually fainting. This piece perfectly captures the interdependence and ultimate destruction caused by love, as the couple simultaneously keep each other alive and destroy each other. Through mediating on Abramović’s life and artwork, Rose’s The Museum of Modern Art encapsulates the relationship between art and love, and its captivating effects on the lives of many.

“All the great art makes us feel something quite indescribable. Perhaps it's not the best word – but there doesn't seem to be a better one to capture how art can be... transformative. A kind of access to a universal wisdom,” Rose writes in the novel.

The Museum of Modern Love is out now for the first time in the United States