Skip to main content


A Discussion on the exhibition “Museum of Broken Relationships”

Written by Michelle Hassall

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a celebration of heartbreak. Currently exhibiting at the York Castle Museum, it all initially began as a creative art project by Croatian artists Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic after their breakup in 2003. Wanting to preserve a memento of their 4 year relationship the pair of exes came up with the idea of creating a museum that collects items from all over the world that embody broken relationships. In 2006 the museum officially opened its doors in Zagreb, Croatia and now has another permanent location, the other in Los Angeles. The exhibition which is currently at York Castle Museum is just one stop in its worldwide journey.

The sole purpose of the Museum of Broken relationships is to share and treasure tales of heartbreak and the objects left behind that don’t belong anywhere anymore. The museum offers a place for items with a meaning, that don’t feel right keeping around now that the relationship is over. The relationships are not limited to romantic, they are familial, political and friendships too.

The items on display range between the mundane and the tragically absurd. Some would even seem comically out of place until one reads the accompanying text. There was, in fact, quite a bit of giggling during my visit from those who only gave the descriptions a cursory glance. The context given for each object ranges from brief to comprehensive. A French ID, proof of citizenship, left as the sole remnant of a relationship that lasted eighteen years. A torn silk Winnie The Pooh nightie hangs as proof of an abusive relationship. The single garment is a final remain of a tragic relationship. The owner, still liking the nightie, donated it, unable to wear it again.

“Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from grief and loss, the Museum offers the chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creativity”

‘Museum of Broken Relationships’

One particular haunting display that lingers is a tattered postcard, submitted to the collection by an 70-year-old Armenian woman. The postcard was slid under her door by a boy who was in love with her. When he asked for her hand in marriage her parents turned him down, deeming him undeserving of their daughter. The boy would then on the same night drive his car off a cliff. The postcard, featuring a man and woman enjoying each other’s company in a park, is now brown and faded.

Some items are submitted without a claim from an owner. An ornate Terry’s Easter egg, ordained with a purple bow was sent in 1902 as a gift, but failed to arrive before the recipient’s death. It was returned to Terry’s, unopened, 80 years later. This egg actually loaned by the Castle Museum itself, unintentionally holding its own broken relationship as we ourselves stumble across the artifacts of broken relationships throughout our lives. 

The exhibition is a place that nurtures loss and heartbreak across time and space. By displaying these private tokens to the public the creators hope to share these experiences to give universal understanding. As long as the item exists, it carries the hopes of what could have been and the pain of what was.

A personal favourite being the three volume Proust novels, the perhaps ironic “Remembrance of Things Past”, which the couple devoured together over many holidays. The lengthy description contained the anecdote of the massive tomes’ weight being too heavy for the luggage weight and so the couple had to tear off the final two hundred pages of the novel and keep them separately in an envelope. Ironic considering that like as the novel’s ending was torn out and unexplored, the couple’s relationship too was cut short and unfinished.

Given the Castle Museum’s exhibition opening closely correlated with the intended ‘leaving date’ of Britain in the European Union, some items relating to the original and recent referendum. Britain’s impending ultimate political break up.

On until March 22nd 2020 (exactly a year after it opened), however if you’re not able to explore the exhibition in person their website acts as a virtual museum space where you can access pictures and stories about objects and also submit your own, if you have them.