David Whitley visits the museum dedicated to the aftermath of broken hearts and lost love
In a box is a diamond ring. And next to it is a simple label, saying: “s(he) be(lie)ve(d).” As economical storytelling goes, that’s A+.
Not all the labels in Hollywood’s most interesting museum are so brief. And none of them are likely to tell a story you’ve heard or cared about before. Unlike most museums, which try to tell the story of something with wider importance, the Museum of Broken Relationships hones in on the truly personal. And it continually hits upon universal truths.
The museum opened in 2016, right in the middle of Hollywood’s glorious tackfest. Near the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex, the Walk of Fame, the Oscars theatres and a million-and-one awful souvenir shops, it feels jarringly out of place. The museum is thought-provoking and stirs emotions in an unflashy way.
It’s essentially a collection of small, otherwise mundane objects, that one person felt was representative of a previous failed relationship. This may be handmade CD compilations, or an embroidered scarf, or a break-up letter. In one case, it’s an envelope full of leaves that one man sent his Californian lover from Canada so that she could enjoy four seasons.
Each item has been donated to the museum, which started as a touring exhibition, before opening permanently in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2006. The Los Angeles offshoot is testament to how well the idea works – and how many items have been donated.
Quietly mooching through from item to item, it’s astonishing how the mood changes. Some make you reach for a belly laugh, others are quite cute in their own way, and others let sorrow and sadness wash over.
Some are genuinely horrifying. A black Helmut Lang dress comes with the story of a fantasist who spun out promises of booking a holiday in the Florida Keys. When the woman discovered this was all one big lie from someone who simply hadn’t the money, he burned everything she owned. Except one thing – the black dress he bought her; a symbol of ownership.
Some delve deep into the problems with the relationships, while others merely allude. One is of a Texas number plate, and it’s accompanied by a note saying: “I followed a boy to Texas. TEXAS! The middle of the country. I have only ever lived by the ocean. I detest that state, and the state it put me in. Finally, one day I drove west on the I-10 until I hit the sand again.” But, every now and then, the emotional wheel of fortune shifts from wistfulness or provoked anger to sledgehammer, heartbroken shock.
And that can come in something as silly as a key-shaped bottle opener. Next to it is the tale, written by the woman who donated it. “You talked to me of love, gave me small gifts every day — the key to my heart. You turned my head. You just did not want to sleep with me.
And then, the blow. “I realised how much you loved me only after you died of AIDS.”