The Museum of Broken Relationships Picks Up the Pieces of Our Broken Hearts

Our experiences make us into who we are, and for better or for worse, we are all museums of our past relationships. We carry the important parts with us: the lessons, the memories, the lingering insecurities, the emotional bruises we can’t stop touching. The Museum of Broken Relationships, a conceptual art museum that opened in Los Angeles this past weekend, navigates this landscape of love and loss by acting as a sanctuary for the objects infused with meaning that are left behind when a relationship falls apart.

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The Museum of Broken Relationships originated in Zagreb, Croatia, founded by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, two artists who broke up in 2003 after dating for four years. They found themselves wondering what to do with the physical remnants of their relationship after they broke up, the objects that their love had injected with significance. They had the idea of a conceptual art museum that would give people an opportunity to let go of these painful reminders without throwing them out, a museum that would simultaneously explore, celebrate, and mourn the remains of broken relationships. The nearly 2,000 piece collection is entirely donation-based and anonymous, with submissions from all over the world, and each artifact is accompanied by a description, sometimes brief, sometimes long and drenched in raw emotion. The relationships represented are mostly romantic, although a selection of objects touch upon relationships with cities, family, religion and self.

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The Museum of Broken Relationships opened its second brick and mortar location June 4th in the heart of Hollywood, in a building that used to be a Fredericks of Hollywood, surrounded by the bizarre belligerence of Hollywood Boulevard in all of its shameless glory: lost tourists, raving mid-afternoon drunks, children on leashes, tour buses advertising celebrity death tours and celebrity trash can tours, a spookily convincing Michael Jackson who tips his hat at you. The boulevard that has witnessed the birth and death of so many wild dreams is both a fitting and jarring location for a museum dedicated to finding the catharsis in emotional collapse. But the museum provides an oasis from the overly saturated and stimulating world directly outside with an airy minimal design and quietly cinematic music – it’s the kind of reverent and serene space that inspires you to get lost in other people’s lives for a few hours.

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Curated by Alexis Hyde and Amanda Vandenberg, the 100 or so objects on display vary wildly, ranging from the bizarre to the heartbreaking to the ordinary, giving the museum the feeling of an incredibly well-curated yard sale. A plush Betty Boop doll shares a shelf with a dinosaur piñata, while across the room sits a wedding dress stuffed in a jar, a vintage Nebraska cheerleader outfit, a brush matted with dog hair, a tiny framed piece of paper that says “pay attention to me,” a pair of used silicone breast implants, a worn out pile of black emery boards. Many of the items are deceptively mundane: a spare key, a simple green mug, a salad spinner, but each description reveals the items’ complex significance to the failed relationship. Instead of hitting you over the head with a graveyard of lost love, the museum is designed to ease you into a place of honesty and openness – the lighthearted and more humorous stories in the front room give way to a side room that tenderly explores darker and more permanent loss (a widow donated her late husband’s cologne bottles, with the description saying she couldn’t bear to throw them out, a wife donated the destroyed pair of jeans her husband was wearing when he got into the car accident that impaired his brain function).

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Despite the depressing subject matter, The Museum of Broken Relationships is ultimately an exercise in resilience and optimism, in vulnerability and courage, a gentle reminder that no matter what you are going through, you are not alone. No matter what you are going through, weird or embarrassing or devastating, there is someone out there who has survived something similar. Sharing the stories of our failed relationships is cathartic in that it releases their hold on us. The result is a voyeuristic emotional journey (I teared up more than once) through the depths of what it means to be a human: to love, to lose, to let go. The museum offers both closure and catharsis, allowing people to turn their stories of loss, pain, anger, and regret into art, reminding us that despite how different our experiences are, we are all deeply connected by the emotions we share.

P.S. The museum also includes a confessional for inspired visitors to share their own stories, as well as a gift shop fully stocked with flasks, sage, chocolate, and self-help books. You can donate an item to the Museum of Broken Relationships here.

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