Mimi Kirk is a contributing writer to CityLab covering education, youth, and aging. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and Smithsonian.
The U.S. welcomes a branch of the bittersweet Croatian museum.
In 2005, after four years together, film producer Olinka Vistica and artist Drazen Grubisic broke up. The Zagreb, Croatia, residents were trying to decide what to do with the detritus of their relationship—the silly little tchotchkes lovers give each other. They were both nostalgic about one object in particular: a small, wind-up bunny that had been an inside joke between them. When one would travel without the other, they would take it along and snap pictures of it in places they normally would have photographed the other.
“We were trying to think of a way to preserve this emotional heritage,” Grubisic told Westword in 2013. “So we thought, ‘Wouldn't it be great if there was a museum where you could keep those things, and they could tell your story in a way that will help you?’”
And so the Museum of Broken Relationships was born. It opened in 2006 in Zagreb and has since been a favorite among locals and tourists in Croatia and beyond. Its exhibits have traveled from Zagreb to such cities as Paris, Buenos Aires, and Cape Town. And this past weekend, to the relief of lovelorn Americans, the museum opened its second permanent display in Los Angeles.
Like the Zagreb space, the museum features exhibits of donated objects, each with a title, the dates and duration of the relationship it is from, the city and country from which it hails, and the story behind it—as told by the donor. (While donors must give their names and sign a donation form, their personal information is never made public.)
For $18, a visitor can peruse about 100 of these mementos. Examples at the L.A. branch include a wedding dress crammed into a pickle jar, a Nebraska cheerleading uniform worn by a woman for the enjoyment of her ex (a Cornhuskers fan), and a slip of paper with the words “Pay attention to me” written on it.
Vistica and Grubisic’s vision for their museum was to create a space of connection. “If you're in a broken [relationship], you'll see that you're really not alone, that it's something everybody went through,” Grubisic told Westword. Psychologists say similar things. Dr. Monica O’Neal of Harvard Medical School told Fusion that people are attracted to the museum because “it makes us feel a part of something bigger…[it] brings us a little bit of comfort that we’re not struggling with those emotions alone.”
It’s also a space of catharsis. From a donor giving away a treasured or hated object—thus helping to transition (creatively) away from a relationship—to a visitor writing their own story of love lost in the museum’s private confessional, the exhibits allow the grieving an opportunity to purge.
As the museum advises, “If you’ve wished to unburden the emotional load by erasing everything that reminds you of that painful experience by throwing it all away—don’t. Give it to us.”