Primary Genre(s): Contemporary Fiction, Art
Originally Published: 27 Nov 2018 by Algonquin Books
Page count: 304
My Format: Audiobook via Hoopla Digital
Would I recommend it: No
Commission Link: https://amzn.to/2K94Fz3
My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Summary from Goodreads
She watched as the final hours of The Artist is Present passed by, sitter after sitter in a gaze with the woman across the table. Jane felt she had witnessed a thing of inexplicable beauty among humans who had been drawn to this art and had found the reflection of a great mystery. What are we? How should we live?
If this was a dream, then he wanted to know when it would end. Maybe it would end if he went to see Lydia. But it was the one thing he was not allowed to do.
Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.
This dazzlingly original novel asks beguiling questions about the nature of art, life and love and finds a way to answer them.
It looks like I am in the minority again because I did not enjoy this book. Read the synopsis above and you will get a sense of how this book was to read. The synopsis is all over the place, almost like random thoughts just bunched together. That is how the book was to me… a bit of a mess. Here are my pros and cons:
- The idea behind this book was creative.
- You get to learn a little bit about Marina Abramovic – love her or hate her, she is at least a very unique individual.
- I found this story to be dull and plodding. This is a relatively short book – about 300 pages – and it took me forever to get through it. It simply wasn’t engaging to me. I wasn’t invested.
- As I said in the pros above, the idea behind this book was creative – writing a story about individuals that are enthralled by the Abramovic piece and how it affects their lives. However, the execution was off. Everything about this book just felt skewed to me.
- I didn’t connect to a single character. I felt like there was a little too much going on and there wasn’t a strong enough focus on any central theme to hold the story together and keep it interesting.
- This book was struggling with whether it wanted to be a biography of Abramovic, a story about a woman dealing with widowhood, or a story about a man struggling with losing his wife. By trying to be all three, it effectively did none of them well.
I am an art lover. I have been around the world standing in front of some of the most amazing pieces of art ever created on this Earth. I’ve been mesmerized by Michelangelo’s David in Florence, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Paris, Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey at the National Gallery in London. I enjoy theatre and opera and symphonies. My husband and stepsons and oldest granddaughter are amazing artists – from painting to sculpting to drawing to writing. That said, performance art, and admittedly some of the modern art I’ve seen, I don’t quite understand. I’ve been to Tate Modern in London and I was surprised, to be honest, about what I saw there. Some of it was creative and unique, but the performance art pieces were just weird to me. I understand that the performance art is essentially meant to evoke emotion or to entertain through physical action rather than via conventional formats (painting, sculpture, etc.), but the only thing it evoked in me was a resounding HUH? And you know what? That is an absolutely okay reaction to performance art. The great thing about art, to me, is that it evokes opinions, as well as emotion, and we are each entitled to our own. I am positive that someone out there viewed the video of a man in a clown costume jumping up and down on a small television screen for hours on end at the Tate Modern as a work of genius… I did not. I stood in front of Michelangelo’s David and saw a work of genius… others may not. The art world has something for everyone and we don’t all have to love the same things.
I heard about Abramovic’s piece back when she was sitting at MOMA. It was all over the news, particularly when Ulay sat with her. Even though I am not a fan of performance art in general, I do admit that watching the emotions the two of them were experiencing without saying a word was quite stunning. At least that sitting was powerful. I still wouldn’t have traveled to New York to see it for myself.
Now, back to the book. As of today, this book has a 4.01 rating on Goodreads with 4,753 ratings. So, there are clearly people out there that loved this book. There are also people that did not love it and I am one of those people. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it if you have read it.
Sidenote: Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey is one of my favorite paintings. The light, the emotion… just everything about that painting is tangible and profound to me. I know a lot about the history of Lady Jane Grey and perhaps that is why this painting evokes such emotion in me. I stood in front of it in the National Gallery for a very long time – I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of it. If anyone ever gets the chance to see it, I highly recommend it.
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