Everyday things are full of love, loss, failed relationships museum

A jar of pickles purchased for a first love is displayed in the new Museum of Broken Relationships.


LOS ANGELES – After her husband asked for a divorce, Amber Clisura gave her engagement ring, kicked him out of the house and threw everything that reminded her of the ruin of the marriage. With the exception of one item: a polished steel barbecue smoker that her future ex-husband had made for her from an old oil drum.

“It was sitting there on the patio and rusted and corroded, and it became a sad symbol of the relationship,” Clisura said.

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A meat smoker is exhibited in the Museum of Broken Relationships.


The four-legged smoker had been a precious handmade gift, but, ultimately, Clisura couldn’t bear to watch. They can be considered as the giving of a neighbor or to sell it for scrap but then read about a call for entries in the new Los Angeles branch of the Museum of Broken Relationships.

The original museum opened in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2010 after growing a touring collection that criss-cross Europe, Asia and the USA. On display in Zagreb are artifacts from the failed trade unions, most of them mundane under normal circumstances. A single stiletto heel. A wine opener. A worn-out old Snoopy doll.

But if isolated in a glass cabinet or hanging on a white wall, and accompanied by a caption, the objects are imbued with sadness, or regret. Or freedom.

In Los Angeles, there is a blue chiffon top a wife wore a café where her husband told her that he would leave. An envelope of leaves mail from Canada to San Diego, so a long-distance lover could be the changing of the seasons in Southern California. A jar of pickles purchased for a first love that of the donor explained, “stopped with the sms’ and before I could get to him.”

After some deliberation, Clisura, a textile artist and fashion designer from LA, decided to donate for the smoker and drove to the warehouse of the museum.

“A woman met me down, and I was handing it over, I burst into tears,” Clisura said, laughing now. “It felt like a weight was lifted.” The museum representative offered to give her a hug.

Employees have embraced their part of the brokenhearted donors eager for the closure, said director Alexis Hyde in the museum location on Hollywood Boulevard, a main road which, she noted, is the “boulevard of broken dreams.”

Hyde is known to brush away her own tears as she opens boxes with donations.

“It is cathartic, the way a good, sad movie is cathartic,” she said. “At a certain level, you know that this person moves, and they have survived.”

Hyde pointed out, not the fizzle of the trade unions represented in the 3,500-square-foot museum were romantic. A donor had a fatal relationship with her father. Another split of a church. A California woman who donated a Texas license plate said that they separated from the Lone Star State.

“My broken relationship with myself,” said Andree Vermeulen, of which the donated items, the museum of the most discussed. The actress sent in a couple of breast implants, had them removed after the end of a toxic relationship with a man who disparaging comments about her body.

Vermeulen, who lives in Los Angeles, said that the implants “never felt right,” and because they are already out, she has reached a place where I feel very grounded and confident.” An outpouring of support on social media gave her more confidence to use the experience as fodder during storytelling performances in which she discusses body image and standards of beauty.

Vermeulen said the donation, now on display in a glass case in the museum LA main room, symbolized in the last chapter of the relationship, and her scars “to highlight a story and a time in my life that taught me a lot about myself.”

More than 2,000 items include the museum’s two brick-and-mortar collections and touring shows, that stops in San Francisco, Helsinki, Finland and Hamburg, Germany. A show in Seoul, South Korea, characterized by a donated Jeep that had to be taken apart and placed by a crane. Donations are coming so regularly that the LA-site, which hopes to continually cycle in new items to keep the exhibition fresh.

The donors are anonymous or which only with the first name. They generally write only a few sentences as a backstory, but some items, including a simple green coffee mug on the LA-site, come up with explanations that go on for hundreds of words.

The caption for a group of old cassette tapes, reads: “The music made me dream.”

Pieces are displayed in six halls on the ground floor location lures tourists who stroll Hollywood Boulevard. Visitors pay $18 admission, and are encouraged to pop into a private “confessional”, in which they write about their own breakups.

Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic, the Croatian artists who devised the original exhibition on a whim, are shocked by his stamina.

Hyde is not. “It is so resonant,” she said. “The audience is so big.”

Clisura admitted, they had not yet been to the museum to see the old rusted smoker.

“I wasn’t sure I was ready,” she said. But she’s since changed her mind and is planning a trip with her new boyfriend.

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