Museum of Broken Relationships and Other Sorrows

Some few years ago, two Croatian artists ended their love affair, but they retained vestiges of friendship and a desire to champion new forms of art.  They discussed these matters while they sat on the floor parceling out what was his, what was hers, what was theirs, what should be discarded, what should be saved, however insignificant. The sequence of ideas: saving, preserving, collecting, curating, and displaying items of value may well come naturally to artists, and so the Museum of Broken Relationships was born. At first, the couple donated only their own shared or disputed items, but soon their friends began contributing. They took the show on the road, and in each city they visited—Manila, Belgrade, Bloomington, Indiana, Paris, Berlin—broken-hearted or relieved or vengeful or sarcastic lovers gave something laden with symbolic importance. They also wrote art historical entries to be posted on the wall next to the exhibit. Here are some:

Having discovered her lover’s car parked outside “the wrong house,” she snapped off his side view mirror. He came home with a story about vandals having desecrated his car. She presented him with the mirror and departed the relationship.

It began as a birthday joke. But when it became clear that he was only attracted to her when she wore this enhanced torso to bed, she decided to take her natural self  elsewhere. She was happy to make this donation to the museum. The wall plaque asks us not to touch.

She moved into his Berlin apartment because they were crazy about each other. Some time later, he was scheduled to travel for three weeks for his business. Her own work prevented her from accompanying him. She feared, she said, that she would not survive so long an absence. He returned to learn that during the three- week absence, she had fallen in love. She left almost immediately for a two-week holiday with her new girl friend. He visited Ikea and bought this axe. Every day, until he ran out of victims, he chopped a piece of her furniture into bits, tied them together with ribbons, and stored them at the front door. She carried away the bits; he kept the axe.

Heels wound for all time, don’t they? Whether it’s the Dear John letter delivered to the poor Tommie in the foxhole or the snarky email Reply at the end of a long chain of love letters, no technology seems right for what should be the face-to-face declaration. The Skype Break-Up clock may be the best monument to the crassness of our age.

After visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships, a place that promises new beginnings as much as it laments the loss of the old, it was proper to stroll through the ultimate reminder of broken relationships—the Zagreb Cemetery. This is purported to be as famous as Pere Lachaise in Paris. But when one doesn’t know the local heroes, the famous families, the rock stars, the sorrow seems to blend into uniformity. C’est la vie.

Avenues, trees, stone after stone, broken columns, angels, grieving women bearing tragic urns. Ah, ora pro nobis nunc et in hora mortis nostri.

The eternal does not frighten me. The infinite and all its emblems are merely dreams we cannot understand. But a decaying bench covered in moss, alone amidst all this stone, all these prayers, all these remembrances, carries such breath-arresting sorrow. Who no longer comes?  But ah, but oh, says G. M. Hopkins: the alpha and omega of our time in two syllables.

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