But the end of a relationship is treated like a scandal. The Museum of Broken Relationships exists in revolt against this everyday secret shame. It collects the relics of broken relationships, often romantic but sometimes familial, imbued with feelings of loss and failure, and transforms them through the power of the gallery space into a communal exploration of how it feels to be a person among others.
The original traveling collection, now permanently housed in Zagreb, Croatia, was the brainchild of artists Dražen Grubižić and Olinka Viśtica. When their romantic relationship fizzled, in 2006, the ex-couple wondered what to do with their love’s newly orphaned curios. They decided to make art.
The Pittsburgh iteration, organized by students and faculty from Carnegie Mellon University, boasts approximately 60 artifacts spread over three rooms in the Mine Factory in Point Breeze. Most are Pittsburgh’s own; the rest come from the global permanent collection, which expands with every country it visits, from Ireland to Singapore. The objects are submitted anonymously, accompanied by essays revealing their significance.
There’s a bowl of lollipops bedecked in Spanish love notes. A shopping bag that once held an expensive gift from a father whose physical presence was economical. A blurry photo of a small boy, accompanied by a two-sentence gut-punch. It’s all pretty sad, but also funny, poignant, enchanting and ingenious. There’s a little wooden motorcycle, accompanied by the donor’s account of a passive-aggressive ex, that is droll and absurd but also exemplifies how sometimes we destroy what we love out of fear. Walking through the exhibit, you are overwhelmed with a sense of the joy and pain involved in living a human life. It takes love seriously, it takes life seriously; there isn’t a hint of phony drama.
Jane Bernstein, the CMU English professor and novelist who brought the exhibition to Pittsburgh, was inspired to do so after visiting the museum’s permanent home, in Croatia. (An annex also exists in Los Angeles.) I wish I could thank her personally. It’s a rare peek into the private lives of others, and an appreciated opportunity to exercise human compassion.