• ‘An emotional roller coaster, curated especially for you’: Museum of Broken Relationships opens in Hollywood

    LOS ANGELES – How do you mend a broken heart? You might think that Rule No. 1 would be to toss all those mementos: the ticket stubs and valentines, the totems and tangible tchotchkes cluttering your bedroom and preventing you from moving on. But the Museum of Broken Relationships has a better idea: If you just can’t bear to throw them away, give them to us.

    The museum has just opened its second location, in Hollywood – the original one is in Zagreb, Croatia – and has been overwhelmed by the response to its online call for donations, receiving around 500 so far. “Some people donate multiple items,” said Director Alexis Hyde. “When people bring me their objects, they get emotional. I can see the tension and reluctance to give me something. But afterwards, they feel a little lighter. It’s a real catharsis.”

    The objects go beyond jewelry and cassette tapes to include oddities such as a wedding dress stuffed in a bottle, a melted flip phone and a mass of dreadlocks. Donors include men and women of all ages and origins, but they have a commonality. “I don’t know their race, sex, socioeconomic status,” said Hyde. “We are all the same, struggling with the same things. The human spirit is never crushed. We move on and start the whole process over again.”

    That impulse, the hope that your heartbreak will reach or teach a stranger, is at the heart of the museum’s mission. Hyde says the space will be organized so as not to crowd the objects and will include a “confessional,” a tiny alcove set aside with a journal provided for sharing visitors’ most private thoughts.

    The original museum was started in 2006 by Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic, a Croatian artist couple who decided to separate and wanted a place for all the objects they had collected during their relationship. They thought maybe there were others seeking a repository where their weighty tokens would be treated respectfully and displayed to share with others.

    The Zagreb Museum has launched several traveling exhibitions and published a book chronicling the objects in the couple’s collection, some of which will be displayed in Hollywood.

    In 2015, Los Angeles lawyer John Quinn visited the museum on a family trip to Zagreb and decided he’d like to bring the museum to L.A. He sent an email, and it was kismet: The couple said they had often discussed opening a second branch but didn’t feel right about going forward until they’d met with Quinn. In an inspired, and some might say controversial, move, Quinn procured the former site of sexy lingerie purveyor Frederick’s of Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard – ground zero for broken dreams.

    The location provides some challenges, Quinn said as he walked over the beautifully polished concrete floors, stopping at some of his favourite items on exhibit in their custom-made oak cabinets, while the bassline of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” throbbed through the walls of the souvenir shop next door.

    “Frankly, we had to think about whether we wanted the museum here,” he said, “because we are trying to do something that is serious and has at least pretensions to culture. But we decided that if we could execute this right, design it right, we could tell our own story.” Perhaps he’s hoping the museum will provide some sanctuary from the touristy Hollywood Wax Museum and the Mickeys, Minnies and SpongeBob SquarePants posing for photos just a block from its elegant frosted-glass doors.

    Inside, more than 100 objects are displayed, each accompanied by a card printed with the donor’s words verbatim. The sentiments include pure poetry, tortured prose, humorous quips and lengthy diatribes. On one wall hangs a tiny piece of paper floating in a frame. “Pay attention to me,” it says. The donor, an artist, wrote that his girlfriend slid the paper into his room while he was working. He found it two years after they broke up.

    “It will be an emotional roller coaster, curated especially for you,” said Hyde, “a journey that is high and low, funny and sad.”

    Despite the tragic tone of many stories, Assistant Director Amanda Vandenberg said she finds the exhibit uplifting: “You see that people have matured in order to be able to move on.” She sees the museum as a conceptual art project, one that is totally accessible and relatable, unlike so much inscrutable modern art in mainstream museums. “And not all love affairs end tragically,” Hyde says. Not every broken relationship is a bad thing.

    In this age of Facebook, with its public pronouncements of shining achievements, some of us need a way to acknowledge and share our failures. “With all the things we celebrate in our lives and have rituals for – the marriages, the births and birthdays, the new jobs, so many things that happen to us which are major landmarks – the tragic things are also major, but not in the same way. But they are not any less significant,” said Hyde. “We see everyone else doing it right, and you think, ‘I’m doing it wrong.’ . . . We are here to say, ‘Nope! You are definitely not alone.’ ”

    On a warm L.A. evening, the museum opened its doors for a private reception two days in advance of its public opening June 4. Among the pedestrians streaming by, Sean Corbet and Ashley Ginter, visiting from Austin, Texas, paused to take a photo of the museum’s facade. What did they think might be inside? “Seven years of heartache? My whole life story?” one of them offered. “Remedies to problems I’m going to have in the future?” said the other.

    You see that people have matured in order to be able to move on.

    Inside, the elegant displays created a stark contrast to the circus atmosphere on the sidewalk. Couples held each other tight as they read the stories of heartbreak and betrayal. Lorelei Mathias, here from London looking for a movie deal based on her book about breaking up, definitely could relate. “The museum is a celebration of the fact that everyone’s been through it,” she said. “It’s comforting that we are all in it together as a human race. By the end of the night, we’ll all be crying.”

    But Hyde said she hopes that museum-goers will also be inspired by the stories people have shared and by how they found the strength to move on.

    “After first looking at these objects, I thought, “I need to have new relationships. I need to get out there and kiss a stranger.’ I hope that someday people will be walking out onto Hollywood Boulevard, kissing strangers and making new friends.”

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