It was a startling sight, a wedding dress crammed inside an old pickle jar. You could feel the impulse of the woman who created this object, pushing all the chaotic emotional fallout of a failed marriage into a small absurd container.
The pickled wedding dress is one of the exhibits being considered for display at the Museum of Broken Relationships set to open in May on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.
I attended a preview event for the Museum at the super hip Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A. It was a little cold up in the rooftop bar but the chill was the perfect counterpoint to nicely set off the wondrous exhibits on display.
Each of the exhibits is an artifact or relic of a broken relationship. Each was unique and surprising and was accompanied by a "story" written in first person by the person who donated the item. The pickled wedding dress donor tells how she once loved and cherished the dress. But one day her husband told her he felt stuck and "probably" didn't love her anymore.
The relics at the Preview were frankly mesmerizing and it was difficult to get the attendees to move along from piece to piece. People seemed captivated by the objects and the stories behind them which were heartbreaking, funny and absurd, but which ultimately managed to put all romantic suffering into proper perspective. When love ends, the world seems to end too. We cling to the objects connecting us to the departed one, the flotsam and jetsam of love gone south. But in time the objects we clung to like holy relics shrink to mundane absurdity.
My personal favorites? The wedding dress in a pickle jar of course. The false breasts which the donor had been required to wear during sex with her husband (before she left him!). I also loved the vintage compact which the donor tells us she has kept wrapped in tissue for years. It was stolen for her by a high school boyfriend.
The ripped out phone was also excellent. "I fell in love with a junkie" the story begins. The phone was a gift ripped out of a payphone in Echo Park. The story was short and stark, hitting a chord with anyone who's ever fallen in love with an oh-so-wrong person.
Perhaps the saddest item on display was the Transplant Caregiver Manual which was given to the donor by her boyfriend as he waited for a double lung transplant. One can imagine her nervously studying this stark medical manual not knowing that just two weeks after the surgery was complete, he would abruptly leave her.
The Museum of Broken Relationships has an interesting backstory. It grew from a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their ruins. Conceptualized in Croatia by an artist ex-couple, the Museum of Broken Relationships started in 2006 and became a permanent museum in Zagreb in 2010.
The Museum's West Coast outpost was founded by John B. Quinn, a prominent L.A. lawyer and co-owner of Q Sushi. He discovered the original site while on vacation with his family in Zagreb.
The Museum is now open for donations, offering, according to a handout at the Preview "a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the permanent collection." "Have you ever had a broken heart?" the handout asks. "If you've wished to unburden the emotional load by erasing everything that reminds you of that painful experience by throwing it all away - don't. Give it to us. Donate your object to the Museum and take part in the creation of collective emotional history."
According to Alexis Hyde, Director, the response to the Museum's call for objects has been tremendous. "We are receiving between 10 and 20 objects every day from all over. Quite a few have been from Southern California which emphasizes the local support we were hoping for, but we have also been getting them from all across the US and internationally." The first exhibition will include about 100 items from the call for objects as well as a permanent collection from Europe. The exhibit will be up for around six months before they start rotating out objects.
When asked if they were receiving anything too weird, Amanda Vandenberg, Assistant Director noted, "We like to keep an open mind. You never know what objects and their stories are going to resonate with an audience." She adds that they particularly value receiving surprising items such as used emery boards or almost empty cologne bottles. "Those things are unique because they're not gifts, or even items that were treasured. They're what was left behind after the person was gone. They're such an intimate view into one unique quality about a relationship, and being able to have that clear viewpoint is an unusual phenomena."
Check out brokenships.la for instructions on how to contribute your own piece for exhibit. The pieces will be shown anonymously. Contributors are invited to write their story of any length in their own language. "Be frank, withdrawn, furious, imaginative, witty or sad," the website extols. And if the pieces are too big to send in a conventional way, the museum may make arrangements for a special pickup.
The Museum of Broken Relationships will be located at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard, one block east of Highland in the old Frederick's of Hollywood building.
Personally speaking, I can't wait!
This blogger has a psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. To make an appointment with Christine, contact firstname.lastname@example.org