Hope and Heartache at LA's new museum of broken relationships
L.A. has always had its fair share of oddball museums like The Bunny Museum; Velveteria's Art on Velvet Museum (think VElvis); Scientology's Industry of Death Museum and the LAPD Museum where you can take your own mug shot. Now, there's a new addition to this enclave of bizarre destinations with The Museum of Broken Relationships, fittingly located on Hollywood Boulevard aka "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
Curious about this new fringe venue and its take on love gone south, I toured the premises with expert help from the museum’s in-house curator, Alexis Hyde who, after a brief orientation, cut me loose in the newly revamped space that once housed Frederick's of Hollywood and its iconic trashy lingerie until it went bust in '95 (yes, pun intended).
The museum revels in showcasing cherished mementos from the lovelorn; cheesy knick knacks with sentimental value; tchotchkes, curios & ordinary household objects that you’d otherwise find at a yard sale. Like a collapsible Salad Spinner with the attached sentiment: “We always complained about soggy lettuce. Getting rid of this won’t change anything but at least it will free up cupboard space!”
There’s a Betty Boop plush doll perched on a mantel; a fanned out display of Brazilian Playboy Magazines; dreadlocks from Oslo, Norway; a glass vial of belly button lint; a Jar of spicy Amish pickles from New York – all accompanied by breakup stories that elevates them to works of art.
None was more jarring than ‘Wedding Dress in a Jar’ donated by a San Francisco woman whose husband “wasn’t feeling it” after 7 years of marriage and wanted out. The woman found herself in a dilemma over what to do with her cherished wedding gown– a stylish, nontraditional silk dress with flower print. She didn’t want to trash it or give it away, so she crammed it in an old pickle jar & donated it to the MOBR. Onlookers are invited to come up with their own pickle metaphors: “Ex Wife in a pickle over wedding dress and it’s a dilly! (Rim shot)
While pain is the definitive word that threads itself through the 115 objects, thoughtfully displayed throughout the museum, so too, is relief. Like the relief experienced by the New York lady who donated her silicone breast implants which now lie encased in Plexiglas alongside her plaque mounted story that could be titled: “For Whom The Boobs Toil!”
Installing them to satisfy her husband's big boob fetish, she had them removed once the marriage was over and they dropped faster than that Times Square disco ball on New Year’s Eve. Initially intending to send them to her ex with a note that read “I’m finished with these!” she opted instead to donate to the museum attached with the declarative statement: “What a beautiful send off for these two lumps of silicone that caused me so much pain.” Oh what a relief it is!
The museum is a refresher course in Breakups 101. It is dedicated to the proposition that anonymously sharing your breakup story lays the foundation for cathartic release by connecting with others. Heartache knows no bounds, as exhibited by the blue chiffon top that hangs on a white walled partition like a Renoir. Donated by a woman from Kilkenne, Ireland, who wore the sheer, sexy blouse to entice her husband, but instead got slam dunked when he told her he wanted a divorce. "I was sitting quietly with big fat tears streaming down my face,” she wrote.
A continent away, a Nebraska woman shared the same anguish when she custom-made a cherry red Nebraska Cornhusker cheerleading dress to excite her husband, a diehard Cornhuskers football fan. Come game time, the dress worked its magic like an aphrodisiac but she was forced to punt when the marriage ended, going from “Sis Boom Bah!” to “Boo Hoo Hoo!” Donating it to the museum, the dress now hangs in lifeless perpetuity.
But is all this really art? “Absolutely!” says Alexis. “It’s all about connection!” There is relief in letting go, in reflecting on the role you played in your own breakups, and discovering that you’re not alone. The museum invites introspection through its storied items, inspiring patrons to share their own story.
And if “Art is love on display”, according to one donor, then so is relationship subterfuge– exemplified by an axe on a wall donated by the jilted boyfriend whose live-in girlfriend left him for another woman. So incensed was he by her infidelity that he chopped up all her furniture. When she returned to pick it up, she was stunned to find it neatly stacked into evenly cut cords of wood. Conclusion: Better to donate your axe to the museum than have it wind up as key evidence in a homicide!
A collaboration of love, the museum is the brainchild of Olinka Vistica and her onetime partner Drazen Grubisic who, instead of bickering over who got what in their breakup, came up with the bright idea to display their treasured belongings in a museum-like setting along with memorabilia and breakup stories from other couples. In 2006 they opened their flagship venue in Zagreb, Croatia to a surprising welcome.
So avant garde was their artistic approach to the whims of modern romance that the MOBR won the prestigious EMYA Kenneth Hudson Award in 2010, as the most innovative and daring museum project in Europe. Co-founder Olinka explains its unexpected popularity: "People find solace and beauty in the company of stranger's stories."
One of those who found solace and beauty in their innovative project was L.A. attorney, John Quinn. He was so taken by its visual appeal that he negotiated a licensing agreement to open up the museum in Los Angeles, where couples break up faster than you can spell irreconcilable differences. Stated Quinn: “I can’t imagine a more fitting city than ours which is filled with as many wild dreams as it is crushing defeats.”
So what’s the takeaway from this oddball museum set amidst the souvenir kitsch, plastic Oscars, and t-shirt shops in Tinsel Town? Perhaps that it's not so odd after all. The museum sheds new light on the oldest game in town and gives meaning to how relationships, broken or otherwise, can be preserved.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s a Betty Boop plush doll, a Pinocchio Puppet, or a pair of silicone breast implants donated by the New York Boob lady who concluded her breakup story with a resounding truth that had me spinning around like wet lettuce in a collapsible salad spinner:
“You need to love yourself fully and completely before you can truly love someone else.”
For more information on The Museum of Broken Relationships, click here.