ZAGREB, Croatia — A dented, turquoise child’s pedal-car. Red high-heel pumps. A box of gourmet microwave popcorn. These are not things one typically expects to see enshrined on museum pedestals, but they are exactly the kind of everyday objects — laden with emotion and personal significance — on display in the Museum of Broken Relationships.
The name alone stopped me in my tracks. On a recent windy evening, almost dusk, I was meandering the warren of streets in Zagreb’s Upper Town. This medieval core of the old city has galleries, museums, small shops and bars, and the late-Gothic Church of St. Mark, easily identified by its colorful tile roof decorated with Croatia’s coat of arms. When I came upon the Museum of Broken Relationships, I wondered: Was this a joke? An ironic name for a hipster bar?
I stepped inside and found the admission desk within a brightly lit gift store. (“You’re My Everything. Not!” T-shirt or mugs, anyone?) An adjacent coffee shop was cozy and dimly illuminated. The place had the trappings of a museum — but what was it, exactly?
Through an archway I spied an introductory wall text, and objects on pedestals, and so I ponied up 25 Kuna (about $3.50) and entered, thinking it would be a hoot.
Well, not exactly. The museum’s concept was born when the founders — a Croatian couple in the middle of a breakup — 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. The now permanent space, open since 2010, exhibits objects and texts from the broken-hearted around the world.
Though there’s a certain implied tongue-in-cheekiness to the premise of a museum founded on “failed relationships and their ruins,” the objects — all donated and cataloged by length of relationship, country of origin, and explanatory text — represent an attempt to overcome grief and loss through the creative act of sharing.
One of the first objects I encountered was a weather-beaten copy of “Tarantula” by Bob Dylan. The accompanying text, identifying the owner as from Sleaford, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, in a relationship that lasted two years, reads: “Given to me by an American ‘boyfriend’ when I was 17 and inscribed ‘for . . . who charmed the savage wolf.’ I didn’t know that he would hound my parents for years, and would eventually have a sex change and steal their name for his new persona.”
On display nearby, a 45 of “If You Go Away” by Terry Jacks, (five years, off and on. Lincoln, United Kingdom), reads: “It was during yet another traumatic teenage breakup between me and the boyfriend that I bought this record which was actually quite a hit at the time. I played it full volume for days, really frustrating my parents, until we made up again. The teenage romance fizzled out, as they do, but I kept my vinyl records, as each song has a certain memory. Perhaps now, 40 years on, it’s time to let go.”
Indeed, the theme of letting go permeates the museum. Some relationships lasted decades, others less than one year, and accompanying texts run the gamut from several paragraphs to a simple sentence. (Next to a plastic hamburger: “His dog left more traces behind then he did.”) Each entry has humor, albeit in dark form, such as the couple in a long-distance relationship that tore one leg off a plush stuffed caterpillar each time they saw each other. The plan was to live together when there were no legs left. “But, naturally, as with all great loves, the relationship broke, and so the caterpillar did not become a complete invalid after all.”
The cumulative effect is poignant and unifying. Who doesn’t have an item to donate?
THE MUSEUM OF BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS Cirilometodska 2, Zagreb, Croatia, 011-385-1-4851021, https://brokenships.com