Museum of Broken Relationships

In November 2012 the Hard Facts team visited the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. We met Olinka Vištica, the initiator of the project who kindly shared her experience with us. Below you can find our notes from the conversation. To learn more about the Museum, please, visit its website.


Photo by Robert Nyman (Flickr)

Have you ever had a broken heart?

This brilliantly coined question hits each one of us. It’s relevant, simple and direct. The museum collects intimate, private stories on broken relationships, triggered by a physical object. It stores some people’s memories and shows them to the others. The stories outgrow the intimacy and reflect pop culture, history, politics etc.

How does it work?

Each story is transmitted as an audio/video confession or a written text and backed up by a physical object that remains in the Museum’s collection (a donation form is signed). The virtual collection is presented on Internet; the selected cases are exhibited on a permanent exhibition in Zagreb and published in a richly illustrated book. The initial nomadic nature of the project, however, has been preserved by numerous international invitations. Each time the Museum of Broken Relationships is hosted on another location in the World, a temporary exhibition is prepared with the items from its depot. New stories are recruited in situ – the host defines the audience.

The donors are referred to as ‘the audience’, the public as ‘the visitors’: “The Museum of Broken Relationships is curated by the audience and defined & interpreted by visitors.” How come that the visitors actually take the effort of reading the lengthy texts on the wall? They’re driven by compassion and curiosity (what’s the role of the displayed object in the story?). The younger visitors are amused, the older are moved.

And what drives the audience to come out, to share their intimate stories in the public? The human species likes to tell stories, for sure. But the context of a museum offers a possibility for self-historisation and self-fictionalisation at the same time. The pinning down of a specific moment in one’s life can also have a cathartic effect. On the other hand the organisers avoid a trap of catering a platform for a therapeutic process. “No,” says Olinka, “there’s nothing wrong with having a broken heart!”

Are these stories true?

“I don’t care”, says Olinka, “even an ‘objective’ CV is just a form of parallel life. These stories interpret a life we don’t see.” The Museum thus blurs the boundaries between heritage and contemporary art.

Museum as a safe house?

The Museum of Broken Relationships provides a safe public platform for personal storytelling, guaranteeing anonymity. So far the attitude and the engagement of the people behind the project have made it safe in spite of its growing popularity. Maybe this detail can illustrate the discretion and sensibility of the organisers: the Museum, of course, has a museum shop with posters, mugs, pencils, rubbers and all the usual merchandise that you’d expect. But none of them exploits the concrete objects or stories.


Photo by Robert Nyman (Flickr)

We wish to thank Olinka Vištica for her generous welcome. We’re also very grateful to Maite Garcia Lehner from European Cultural Foundation who pointed out some similarities between the Hard Facts project and the Museum of Broken Relationships, which received the ECF grant in 2007. Thanks also to Nevenka Koprivšek who put us in touch with Olinka.


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