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Heart Gallery

The world’s largest repository of broken dreams

Author James Sturz Illustration Peter Oumanski


ZAGREB, CROATIA – Hanging on a wall in one of Zagreb’s newest museums is an ax, and beside this a sign explaining its relevance (a jilted lover used it to chop her ex’s furniture into bits). Not far from here is the side mirror a woman snapped off her boyfriend’s car when she found it parked in front of the wrong house. The text explains how she tried and failed to detach the windshield wipers, too.

So it goes at the Museum of Broken Relationships, a converted 18th-century palace containing the detritus of love gone wrong: forlorn-looking wedding dresses, tatty stuffed animals, an unworn garter belt, a broken watch, a love letter mounted on shattered glass.

Established as a traveling exhibit in 2006 by Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić (after their own relationship fell apart), the collection debuted in its permanent home in 2010 and now holds more than 1,000 objects. Collection manager Ivana Družetić says she receives two or three new pieces each week. All donations are anonymous.

Reasons for giving to the museum vary: exhibitionism, vengeance, catharsis. Many donors simply want a safe place for items that are still cherished, even if the affairs they emerged from are not. And while the premise of the museum might seem an ironic, snarky celebration of other people’s misery, Družetić insists that this is not the case.

“We’ve had visitors break down in tears,” she says. “I see them heading to the toilet to cry. But more often there are couples hugging and kissing. They’re more affectionate once they see what can happen to them.

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