The Museum of Broken Relationships LA has finally arrived. First opened in Croatia, the U.S. branch brings a starkly human touch to Los Angeles and delivers everything it promises: a display of human affection and disaffectation, spoken through the memorabilia of broken relationships.
LA’s art scene has been a’bustle lately, with public performances and spaces both fantastic and stoic. The Museum of Broken Relationships LA is a welcome addition to a city that gets stranger by the day. The premise is simple: donors worldwide send in personal artifacts and memorabilia of their broken relationships. Each artifact is plainly displayed with a placard, bearing a title and the item’s story, penned by the donor. These range from brief and amusing anecdotes, to deeply involved testimonials.
Some of these artifacts are to be expected, like diary pages, event tickets, and teddy bears. But also: silicon breast implants, and two separate sets of fake, wearable breasts, all accompanied by suitably morose stories of unwanted bodily modification. Under a glass display sat a vial of gnarled pubic hair. A heart-shaped display of photographs hung on the second level. All the photos are of the word ‘color’ seen in various signs, assembled for a lost love named Carla.
There was a wedding dress, de-ceremonialized and packed into a jar, and a mouldering dreadlock snipped from the scalp. One of the stranger things: a molten cellphone retrieved from an oven by a landlord, probably debris from his tenant-couple’s tumultuous relationship. And then there were the mundane things, transfigured by virtue of their human history: toothpase tubes, coffee mugs, torn jeans. Each is an untold life, encased in inanimate still life.
Museum of Broken Relationships LA sometimes felt more like visiting a website (man, does anyone remember Post Secret?) than a museum–to its credit. I think most of us think of museums in terms of boundaries and restrictive solemnity. You are here, and the piece is over there; don’t cross the line. That’s not quite the case at Broken ‘Ships. Here, there are no master creators from on high–the exhibitors are lovelorn fools like the rest of us. Neither are there priceless artifacts–just a heap of household items, intermixed with smut, trash, and the occasional DIY valentine. While there is definitely something under the glass, there’s nothing on the pedestal, except for the abstracted, collective melancholy of the donors and their untold stories.
Hopefully it isn’t too hammy to use the phrase ‘anti-museum’ here; rarely have I been to a museum where so little feels forbidden. That simply isn’t the point of Broken Relationships LA. Like they said on the website, the point is to offer a closure ritual to the lovelorn, something not easy to achieve in bustling urban spaces. Like coming-of-age rituals, comfort for the romantically frustrated simply isn’t a service that modernity offers. The Museum of Broken Relationships LA, however, is a place to bring the private into the public space, to externalize the indigestible heaps of emotional detritus that many of us can’t process alone.
It has the solemn air of a museum, but it’s a naturally meditative, rather than repressive one. Oddly enough, it reminded me of what museums are supposed to be: places where you put things under glass so that you can inspect them more clearly. And love is a very bizarre thing to see, naked and objectively. It’s a damned unique experience, especially considering where Broken ‘Ships is. Surely it was by design that the Museum of Broken Relationships LA roosted itself in the busiest portion of Hollywood Boulevard. It stands a stone’s throw from celebrity wax museums and Guinness sideshows. Outside its doors, droves of tourists hunch fixated on the hollow hieroglyphics of the Walk of Fame. Yet in the middle of Tinseltown, the godhead of an industry built on happy-ending dreams, there’s the Museum. Like a monastery of catharsis, dedicated to helping us process the breaking of those same dreams.