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The Museum of Broken Relationships, a Cemetery of Memorabilia


In Zagreb, Croatia, there is a cathartic museum to which people donate all that is left after a romantic break-up.

All world capitals have their museums of curiosities, some stranger or more fascinating than others. Normally they are places that do not talk of the great works of art or feature celebrated painters, but which feature other things, something more secret and more intimate about the human experience. And this is where the Museum of Broken Relationships fits in, an apparently visceral experiment about that which practically all of us have been through: romantic rupture.

It all began in 2006 as an itinerant exhibition dreamed up by Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic (a couple who are still together) regarding the concept of failed relationships and their detritus. The couple collected all kinds of artifacts from friends who had been through a break-up, and it was so successful that in 2010 the exhibition, which by then had grown in size considerably, was given a home in Zagreb, in the Kulmer Palace.

Broken gnome

The owners describe the museum in terms of the catharsis that it creates with its public. It is not that the objects have an aesthetic value, but visitors can empathize with the values and the phantoms that permeate each one of the objects that remained after a separation: They are part of the story that somebody affectionately created with someone else, part of an amorous anecdote and which are the part that is most painful, because it is as if they had their own memory. But the endings can be more creative than the simple and raw suffering, and as a result the museum receives donations from anyone who wants to do something different (other than throw away, keep or burn) with the physical remnants of a dead relationship.

Among the memorabilia, for example, is an ax that was used to destroy the furniture of an ex-lover, a wedding dress, a crystal horse that a husband bought for his wife in Venice, and a pan that was used to bake bread when there was still eroticism between one couple. Each one of the objects is accompanied by its corresponding anecdote, and it therefore ceases to be just an object and becomes a piece of nostalgia, melancholy or a snub. A world in ruins.

But as well as being cathartic and potentially healthy (not in the way of self-help, but precisely as a way of seeing the ruins in order to assimilate them), the museum implores us to question our relationship with significant objects. The things that we keep, throw away or forget about after a break-up represent part of our identity. They are the choices of identity that we make, either consciously or unconsciously, because the physical universe – the secret life of objects – is a crucial reference point of our emotions. Perhaps the Museum of Broken Relationships has been such a success because it would appear that when two people split up they are unable to continue living an existence furnished by somebody else. They must forcefully reinvent their universe, with all of its parts.

The initiative is a kind of cemetery of sunken ships, a place where all of those phantom objects can go and have a second life, and perhaps help someone else to break free from a painful or inert past. “Our societies regale us with our weddings, funerals and even graduation ceremonies, but they deny us any formal recognition of the death of our relationships, despite the strong emotional effect,” the mausoleum’s creators say.

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