The Museum of Broken Relationships

7. Museum 1

A coffee mug, a wedding dress, and a fake pair of plastic breasts. What do each of these things have in common? They’re all relics of past romances on display at the Museum of Broken Relationships. The permanent installation features over a hundred objects alongside personal stories about ended relationships from across the globe. Each object holds special significance in a real, past romance that wasn’t meant to last. Some of these stories are funny, some heart-breaking, and others are empowering.

Conceived by former artist couple Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006, the original exhibition was prompted by the question: what did people do with objects that had been meaningful in their relationships? In 2010, they created a museum to house a collection of these objects in Zagreb, Croatia. The US version of this exhibition has now found its way to Los Angeles, thanks to founder John B. Quinn who saw the original display in Croatia. Director Alexis Hyde and assistant director Amanda Vandenberg made a call for donations, encouraging people to send in their relationship mementos and share their stories.The response was overwhelming and they received hundreds of donated objects and accompanying personal narratives from all over the world. The nature of the romantic relationships varies from first loves to marriage. Hyde and Vandenberg went through each donation individually and curated select items to put on display.

Speaking to founder John B. Quinn, he describes some of these objects chosen for the installation;“There’s a bottle of very high-end French wine that a person from London, England had submitted. They were in a relationship, but they were both married to other people. However, they bought a bottle of Château Haut-Brion from 1983 and they agreed that when they left their respective spouses to be together, they would open this bottle. And the bottle was unopened. The relationship lasted from 1989 to 2010.”

7. Museum 2

Other objects are remnants of toxic relationships, from which those involved have since removed themselves. “There’s a very strange pair of fake breasts,” Quinn notes. “The person who donated them says that her husband bought them for her and insisted that she wear them. She hated doing it and it disappointed her. Because of this, she decided to leave him.”

In addition to 6 exhibition rooms, there will be a private “confessional” space where visitors can write and leave anonymous notes. There is also an ongoing call for new, donated objects. “Just because the first show’s been curated, the call for objects is always open,” says assistant director Amanda Vandenberg. “People can go online, donate, tell their story, and they have the opportunity to be shown here in Los Angeles, or they can also go into a collection of traveling exhibitions.

The installation is designed to unite the audience in a universal experience where there is no need for an art historian or art professor to mediate. The objects represent a singular, shared heartache or relief that comes with the very nature of intimacy. It’s the vulnerability of these stories that connect the audience to their own experiences and each other. “Some of them are silly, some of them are tragic, but it’s the variety that’s the human experience,” says Quinn. “What it brings home to you is how memory can inhabit an object, even someone else’s memory, when you see the object and the story.”

The installation, by design, does intend to leave its audience on an uplifting note, by ending with stories that affirm that not every broken relationship is, or remains a negative. So perhaps for some, this will not only give the opportunity to reflect on their own past relationships, but also provide a chance for closure.

Text by Zee Chang
Photography courtesy of The Museum of Broken Relationships Los Angeles