The Museum of Broken Relationships Puts Your Heartbreak on Display
A gold Zippo lighter. A wedding dress. Eyeglasses, a wooden spoon, a little teddy bear holding a heart.
The mementos we hold on to long after former lovers have scorned us occupy dusty shoeboxes under our beds or cramped spaces in the backs of closets. We take these tokens -- random things, like coins, 25-cent rings from vending machines, and scribbled love notes -- and hide them away as much as we do our ugly, goopy, grieving, sad little broken hearts.
But now, there's a museum in Los Angeles encouraging us to cast light on these shadowy symbols of failed love affairs. The premise? Instead of tucking our memories away and experiencing breakups through sniffles, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream pints, or weeks-unwashed sweatpants, your sonata pathetique can find camaraderie as part of a conceptual art piece kicking off June 4th at Los Angeles' new Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum's exhibits are actual, physical embodiments of lost hope for lost love, all submitted by the lovelorn public; from fuzzy handcuffs and a T-rex piñata to racks and racks of discarded lingerie.
Solidarity for the dumped
No matter where, when, or with whom your ugliest breakup occurred, that pukey, screamy, achey, stop-the-world-I-need-to-get-off, pathetic feeling isn't the only one like it. And this museum for the emotionally wounded offers solidarity for the dumped. Installations at the Museum of Broken Relationships resonate: whether it's someone's mixtape collection, an empty coffee can, or a pile of books.
The original Museum of Broken Relationships is in Zagreb, Croatia, where John B. Quinn visited while on a family vacation in the city. Moved by the exhibit's quirky vulnerability and the universality of heartache, Quinn set about expanding the Broken Relationships experience by opening a museum in the heart of Hollywood. Quinn's location is in a building formerly occupied by lingerie chain Frederick’s of Hollywood -- turning a store dedicated to prolonging relationships into an homage to those that failed.
"It's wonderful to think that people are actually willing to part with things and open up and share their stories," says Amanda Vandenberg, the museum's director. "It's the unique objects that stick with you that you end up remembering the story for. The used emery boards or half-used cologne bottles."
OK, but why?
The name itself, Museum of Broken Relationships, is synonymous with crippling grief, panic-inducing regret, and forever-lost happily ever afters. So why would anyone choose to partake in such a gut-wrenching museum experience?
Alexis Hyde, the museum's director, explains that while at face value the Museum of Broken Relationships does sound like a drag, it's actually the opposite.
"When we're going through these times of loss and grief, we feel very alone," Hyde says. "And when you go through this and you see how other people have gotten through and their experiences that mirror yours, you end up leaving with a sense of connection, a sense of catharsis, a sense of hope."
And while all the objects do tell stories of a break and an end, a lot of them leave you smiling, laughing, even zealously optimistic. "Plenty of the stories are funny or wistful," Hyde said, "or they know that it was for the best. Some do break your heart but that's not all of them. And seeing that rainbow of experience is very… connecting."
As you read the display cards and connect them to the items, you realize that, yes, this is art. This is what art is SUPPOSED to do. It's not just a pretty visual, it's an experience. An entire visceral reaction as your sensory memory kicks in and you remember having these feelings, thinking these thoughts, holding on to these hopes.
We all have our own Museum of Broken Relationships
I tried to leave most of my ex-boyfriends packed away in the attic when I moved from Indiana to California, but there was one I couldn't get rid of. He was preserved in a red Jim Beam shot glass he gave to me on our last evening together, at a dusty redneck tavern on a rural Midwest road. The bar had deer heads mounted on the walls, arcade shooting games from the 1980s, a pool table with tattered felt, and a jukebox that played only George Strait.
He ordered a shot of Red Stag and slid the emptied novelty glass bearing the same name over to me. "A red stag for my redhead." It was dumb, but I nearly died.
Two weeks later, he said he wanted to break up. And I let him, but I held on to that stupid shot glass. It sits on my bookshelf, holding quarters I toss into it for laundry. It's my own Museum of Broken Relationship shrine -- and it's a perfect example of the kinds of mementos and stories the LA museum counts on for its exhibits.
"People who donate find it very cathartic and freeing," says Hyde. "They're really looking forward to connecting with strangers, which is really very beautiful."
With anonymity comes the ability to be entirely honest without fear of judgment. "If your name isn't attached to it, you aren't owned by that story," Vandenberg explains.
Open submissions are ongoing. Hyde says the museum is looking for all kinds of stories and objects; from rocks to boomerangs. And maybe, one day, a little red shot glass.
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