A museum based on stories of heartache and falling out of love has become an unlikely hit. David Whitley went to check it out.
Garter belts and condoms
Hanging from the wall is a slightly grubby pair of white garter belts. “I never put them on,” explains the neighbouring sign, dictated by their previous owner. “The relationship might have lasted longer if I had.”
Nearby is a packet of Russian condoms – “Didn’t use them with her or anyone else” – and can of what is billed to be ‘love incense’. A two word explanation for its presence is sufficient: “Doesn’t work.”
Museum of Broken Relationships
The new Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia is packed with humour – but also with heart, hatred and hurt. The brilliantly simple idea – offering a chance to get over emotional collapse through creation, and donating something symbolic of the relationship to the collection – came to Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2005. Their own relationship had hit the rocks and they collected up a few of their own personal mementos. They decided to exhibit them, plus those gathered from their friendship networks, and it took off. The exhibition was a huge hit, and started to tour the world, collecting more artefacts on the way. “It was never meant to be a project,” says Dražen. “But it started to have a life of its own.”
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“Different themes emerged in different places – war in Bosnia and people moving abroad as guest workers from the Philippines – but the emotions were universal.”
A collection of 700-or-so objects – all otherwise unremarkable, but having a huge significance to one ill-fated couple – has been accumulated. Catharsis and letting go appear to be the main motivations for those who have added to the haul. Olinka says: “When you give your object and your story to the museum, it is no longer your story – it is the world’s.”
The permanent museum opened in October 2010 – it long since stopped being about Olinka and Dražen’s own broken relationship – and they eventually hope to be able to to set one up on every continent.
Objects on display
The objects are often terribly mundane; a map of Frankfurt, a Swedish bank note, a small suitcase, a car wing mirror. But the museum isn’t really about the objects – it’s about the stories behind them. Each object is the key to a hugely personal tale that has no significance to anyone outside the immediately concerned, but strikes a poignant chord with anyone who has ever loved.
The range of break-up emotions is covered; anger, pain, relief, remorse, grief. Some of the donations are fairly obvious – wedding dresses, cuddly toys and items of clothing, but each story seems to strike perfectly at a different part of the emotional pincushion.
It becomes a semi-voyeuristic journey through the lives of complete strangers, each identified only by their home town and the start and end dates of their relationship. They’re silhouettes, but unmistakably real characters.
Things left behind
An Irishwoman has donated the blue chiffon top worn on the day her husband took her out to lunch to tell her he was leaving; A German lady has given the axe she used to chop up her partner’s furniture; one chap has left the shaving kit he kept at his loved one’s house before she had a family with someone else. “I hope she doesn’t love me anymore,” his explanation reads. “And I hope she doesn’t know that she was the only person I ever loved.”
Some tales are shocking. A pair of figurines represent the two children a woman took with her as she fled a violent husband, and a Serbian woman has chipped in with a pair of large sculpted breasts. Her husband used to make her wear them during sex, a way to get him turned on as their relationship hit crisis point.
Flash dog collar
The biggest heart-breakers creep up unexpectedly in the most unlikely exhibits. A flashing dog collar light belonged to a couple who parted after thirteen years together. He allowed her to keep the dog as he thought she’d need the company, but she later killed herself in a hotel room.
And then you get torn to shreds by something as simple as a key ring bottle opener from Slovenia. It is dated 23 January 1988 to 30 June 1998, and the small plaque to the side reads: “You talked to me of love, gave me small gifts every day; this is just one of them. The key to the heart. You turned my head, you just didn’t want to sleep with me. I realised how much you loved me only after you died of AIDS.”
The Museum of Broken Relationships (+385 1485 1021) can be found at 2 Ćirilometodska in Zagreb’s picturesque old town.