The Museum of Broken Relationships, a traveling exhibit opening on Feb.14 at Root Division Gallery, is like reading a Dear John letter you weren’t supposed to see. You just can’t look away.

Teddy bears and furry handcuffs sit next to a pair of goalkeeper gloves and a prosthetic leg. They’re all keepsakes and souvenirs from past relationships that have been donated to Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic. And the Croatian artists understand the importance of these items all too well.

Some five years ago, the pair ended their own relationship and created this exhibition.

“This museum was born because all you get when you want to get over [a relationship] is destroy everything, forget everything,” Vistica said.

“It seemed to us such a cruel idea. Past loves deserve to live in a way maybe in the objects that keep the beautiful moments alive.”

One of their first contributions was a small rabbit and a photo. Both avid travelers, the couple sometimes found themselves alone in faraway lands.

For company, the one traveling took the rabbit along and took a photo of it in a place where they wished the other person could be. In the photo shown at the exhibition, the rabbit is outside of Tehran where Grubisic traveled.

Although they’re not together anymore, the pair now travels around the world to bring the exhibition to local galleries. From Berlin to Zagreb and Singapore, it has been a hit.

The exhibition includes a permanent collection which the artists brings in suitcases labeled Museum of Broken Relationships. Then in each location, the two accept donated objects making each exhibition unique.

Culture and history often come through in the objects donated, Vistica explained.

“In Singapore, the first exhibit we got was a digital camera and Singapore is really the center of modern technology, and the story was all gay relationships are like digital cameras they become obsolete too quickly,” she said.

In Zagreb, they received a prosthetic leg from a man. He had fallen in love with a nurse who helped him to get the materials needed for the limb. On a note, he wrote that the leg lasted longer than the relationship because it was made of sturdier materials.

In San Francisco, the artists allowed people to send in objects by posting a call for submissions on the Root Division Gallery website. They received some forty items including broken glass, a book titled We Broke Up on Skype with the chat that ended the relationship, and a bride and groom wedding cake topper.

Break-ups are universal, Vistica said. The stories are different but the pain is the same.

The Museum of Broken Relationships runs from Feb. 14 to 18.

Sliding scale suggested donation: $2-$20

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born...

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