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Memories Haunt Museum of Broken Relationships

It's a pop culture repository housing relics of the heartbroken

A dinosaur piñata. A Peter Pan plush doll. A Nebraska Cornhuskers varsity cheerleading dress. A broken dwarf. These may not sound like items you would find in an ordinary museum, but the Museum of Broken Relationships is no ordinary museum.

The original museum’s concept was born when the founders — Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić — wondered what people did with objects that had been meaningful in their relationships. They asked friends to contribute any items from love-gone-bad, along with musings about their meanings, and used these to create exhibitions that subsequently toured 25 cities — collecting donations along the way.

These are artifacts that go beyond the merely historical.

Although often colored by personal experience, local culture, and history, the exhibits presented always form universal patterns, offering an invitation to discover them and feel the comfort they can bring. The first permanent space in Zagreb, Croatia, open since 2010, exhibits objects and texts from the brokenhearted around the world.

Now, a second permanent space has opened in Los Angeles (photos courtesy of the Museum of Broken Relationships), and it is a magnificent statement to the power of catharsis that is contained within everyday objects.

From the earliest days of civilization, man ascribed spiritual power to objects. Vištica and Grubišić, and L.A. Museum Director Alexis Hyde, recognize that this has not changed, even as societies have advanced well beyond what the ancients could have ever imagined. Everything from belly-button lint to internet modems can have emotions projected onto them.

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These are artifacts that go beyond the merely historical. They are trans-cultural objects of such emotional power that they provide even greater insight into the modern human race than some of our greatest inventions.

It’s a brilliant conceit, with universal appeal — which is why both museums have achieved international acclaim.

Related: We’re Losing Our Cultural Touchstones

Our attachment to objects derives from our innate desire to project our emotions onto someone or something, to contextualize them. When a relationship of any kind ends, the object becomes a touchstone of both past and present. The remains of a relationship are manifested in the objects touched by the individuals. They become symbolic, and in some cases, the symbolism becomes amplified in grief.

An old pair of Converse All-Stars becomes “his old pair of Converse All-Stars, the first gift I ever got him for his birthday.”

Memories flood over the afflicted. In some cases, the memories became too strong, and this is what initiates the donation. In the case of the dinosaur piñata, the donor wrote, “I’ve tried to throw this away multiple times, but it looks so sad sitting next to the trash. I hope this is the best home I can give it.”

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Random Items in the Croatia Museum”]Mannequin hands|A side-view mirror|Air-sickness bags|The letter T from a keyboard|An axe|Shampoo|A wooden watermelon[/lz_bulleted_list]

There are no rules as to what items can be donated — they range from the mundane to the bizarre. Each item has a brief story submitted along with it, but those who donate the item remain anonymous. The anonymity provides a shield that permits the true story to be told, and with it comes the power of authenticity.

The universality of human emotion and broken relationships does not require visitors to be an art history or archeology major. It merely requires one to visit with an open heart. There is initially a feeling of displacement, as if one is a voyeur peeping into an intensely intimate portion of someone’s life. Yet within moments, it becomes impossible not to identify with the stories and emotions expressed.

Nor is the experience depressing. It is demonstrative of the transient nature of all relationships — that some will fade as others germinate, that relationships are a cycle within the greater cycle of life. Despite the sadness some items engender, there is also the implicit conclusion that life continued anew for the individuals whose stories are encapsulated by their respective objects.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is located at 6751 Hollywood Blvd. Admission is $18 — $15 for students, seniors, and military with ID. Open every day. Hours vary.  

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