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BOOK REVIEW: The Museum of Broken Relationships – Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić

| 12 January 2018 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Museum of Broken Relationships – Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić

Orion Publishing Co.
November 2017
Hardcover, $39.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Arts & Entertainment / History of Art & Design Styles > Art from 1900 to Current


For anyone who has ever caught a flicker of love and seen it disappear.

Human beings are fascinating creatures. If you need proof of this then you need look no further than the book, The Museum of Broken Relationships – Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects. This hardcover, artistic-style photographic book is a veritable treasure trove of the tangible objects that were left behind in the aftermath of some failed relationships. What could have been a series of banal, everyday objects of little monetary value, prove to be fascinating for the stories that are attached and the sentimental weight they once bore. This is ultimately a voyeuristic and hopeful activity because we see that these people have overcome their heartbreak and are now in a place where they can celebrate these totems of their past love in such a public way.

In the midst of the debris surrounding us, there was one trivial object that, in its own unlikely way, glued the shards of memory back together. We used to call the little windup toy honey bunny – a substitute for the pet we could never have, since we both travelled so often and Dražen (Grubišić) is allergic to cats. Now this banal symbol of the transient nature of our relationship seemed to offer an answer…It became the first building block of the project that miraculously, still ties us together. We came up with a simple idea: a place to store all the painful triggers of past loves, creating a vault for both their tangible and intangible heritage. It seemed a nicer, more poetic solution than divvying up family possessions or, worse, giving in to outbursts of emotional vandalism, which would be bound to destroy invaluable parts of our intimate history. We named this repository the Museum of Broken Relationships.

This book is based on the bricks and mortar, Museum of Broken Relationships. The first one opened in Zagreb in Croatia after a couple who had been going out for four years broke up. They were arts producer, Olinka Vištica and visual artist, Dražen Grubišić. They realised that it would be great to have a place to store some of their shared personal items that were loaded with memories of their sad and happy times together. They originally put this together as a temporary exhibition of items donated from themselves as well as their family and friends. But the idea proved so popular that the Museum of Broken Relationships in the Croatian capital was born.

After more than forty amazing exhibitions in twenty countries, even after the establishment of museums with permanent addresses in Zagreb and Los Angeles, we still find ourselves puzzled whenever an unknown storyteller, from some near or distant patch of the planet, chooses to bid farewell to their love by sending their keepsake into exile, to a safe place for public commiseration.

This idea ultimately resonated with a lot of the people. A second Museum of Broken Relationships opened in Los Angeles and the pair accepted donations from anonymous people from around the world who wanted to do the same with their own symbols from past relationships. The collection now numbers in the thousands and these items have traveled as far afield as London, Istanbul and Singapore.

The objects presented in this book are far from touched-up. Ranging from the banal to the bizarre, they capture authentic snapshots of human experience from around the world over the last hundred years, often set against the political, ethical, and social challenges of the times. Whether the protagonists of these stories are engaged in battles across tiled kitchen floors or war-torn Afghan deserts, their stories never fail to enchant us. Each object’s gripping power lies precisely in its rawness, in the courage and honesty of its former owners who chose to shed some light on the miraculous ways we love and lose. These diverse, often elliptical narratives span a gamut of emotions, from wry humor to deep grief, and they continue to provide a humbling experience, a source of inspiration, and a reminder to value those moments of true connection with each other, however brief or distant in the past they may be.

To say that looking at the beautiful photographs of these items and reading the stories contained in this volume is interesting is an understatement The anonymous donors mostly choose to disclose the length and duration of their relationships (these range from short and passionate fits of lust through to long-term marriages and affairs) as well as providing some background information about the nature of the relationship. These latter details vary in length and depth and include sharp and simplistic one-liners like: “We were just two kids who couldn’t keep a promise” about a ring and “The sex play was fun, but I’m happier to be free from your shackles” about a pair of hand-cuffs. On the flip-side there are also short essays and poetry by donors about their former beloveds, such as the following from Connecticut about a Baseball and American flag:

I read that matter is incredibly, mind-bogglingly empty. If you could remove all the space between nucleus and electrons in every atom in the world the compressed mass would be the size of a baseball. I mentioned this to my boyfriend who loved the sport, and he gave me this ball to use in an art project I hoped to create around the concept. I had lost both my husband and son within four years and was looking for ways to understand the universe. My boyfriend was a recent widower so I thought he understood grief. When I found out that he was sleeping with the wife of his co-worker. I wanted to take a bat and knock some sense into him.

A lot of the donors exhibit a wistful sense of longing about the past. It could be that their partner changed into someone beyond recognition or that their partner cheated and the cuckolded donor was left blindsided about what happened. Some individuals are quite rich and descriptive in the information they choose to disclose, such as the following individual who had a tile with the words, “Mejor Sola Que Mal Acompañada” made in Mexico. This translates to “Better alone than in bad company” and serves as a cautionary tale:

After 18 years of marriage, my husband ran off with a 26-year-old co-worker. Shortly thereafter I went to Tijuana, Mexico to have this tile made. It has served as a daily reminder that I am “Better alone than in bad company.” Since then I have raised my two sons on my own and obtained my master’s degree in non-profit leadership. I now share this artefact to inspire others facing a relationship loss to focus on claiming and expanding their own personal power.

Not every story here is from a bitter, scorned lover (but that said, there are quite a few of these including a person who goes into marvellous detail about an axe and how they chopped up their ex-girlfriend’s furniture when she was off on holiday with her new lover. This will have some people marvelling at the sheer vindictiveness of it.) There are other donors who are mourning people like a partner, child or a parent who has died or they are from a donor whose love was rejected by their parents. One man even writes a sort of epitaph for the carefree child he once was courtesy of a Peter Pan plush doll:

I purchased this little plush toy on my 25th birthday, as a reminder to always keep the little boy inside me alert, awake, and alive. It has sat atop my computer since that day to serve as inspiration. Alas, I now approach my fiftieth birthday, and the boy is lost to me. Grand dreams have rotted away, and imagination lies in a dusty corner of an abandoned house down the street, inspiration carried off by the autumn winds. But rather than just say all this, I think the caption for this little toy could be nothing more than, “I grew up.” Seems more elegant somehow.

If there’s one thing that is apparent from this volume, it’s that heartbreak is a universal experience. This means that we can all relate to it but it’s also something that fails to fit either a neat or certain shape, size or other parameter. These quirky items display a real richness of human experiences. In some cases, you feel like you couldn’t make the story up if you tried because it’s so strange or absurd and at other points your heart breaks at how tragic the set of circumstances is. This collection is one that will make you laugh and cry and is like a set of unpolished gems – there are some really special items to be found here among stuff that is also quite raw and oblique.

I dated an actor/musician long-distance for two and a half years. He would never hold my hand in public. Ours is still the best sex I ever had, even though he had a small penis. A few years after we broke up, I made a piñata from all his love letters. I know it’s a cliché, but it made sense at the time. It has hung in my kids’ room since 2007, and my husband rolls his eyes whenever he has to dust it.

The Museum of Broken Relationships has something for everyone because we have all experienced an imperfect or failed relationship. This book is for anyone who has a heart and can empathise with the darkness of heartbreak and the freedom that can come with being rid of the emotions and shackles that mark a toxic relationship. The Museum of Broken Relationships celebrates all of this as well as the rich human connection that proves there are so many more things that bind us than divide us, even if that object happens to be an axe.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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