Museums: Between the Normal and the Bizarre (and That of Broken Relationships)
Updated On: June 04, 2023
“The best introduction to art is to stroll through a museum. The more art you see, the more you’ll learn to define your own taste.”Jeanne Frank, a modern artist
The past feels so helplessly mesmerising. We see it with an aurora of majesty that takes away or, at the very least, relegates it from any unpleasant details. We get so sentimental when remembering our school days, even if we hated doing the maths homework. We wish we could return to that summer vacation in the late 1990s, even though we were more irritated than pleased.
We see something that provokes a memory, and before we know it, we indulge in a daydream about those ‘good old days’.
We are obsessed with the past. More precisely, we are captivated by those former events we cannot experience unless we go back in time. Even though ChatGPT now satisfies our curiosity by answering any questions we have and may soon be able to know where your Donald-the-Duck socks went, we still cannot resist this urge to know how people of the past lived.
But since we are still, as of 2023, unable to get back in time, at least in the same way as writers, artists, filmmakers, and Christopher Nolan imagined, we came up with the idea of museums. If we cannot experience the past, why not provoke it? Why not build a virtual time machine to satisfy our curiosity?
So we started collecting everything we could get hold of that people in the past left behind. Then we organised them in a certain way, displayed them in glass boxes, and invited people to come, have a look, and take a ride to the past.
Then it turned out that our ancestors left so many unique, different monuments. So we categorised them based on their historical significance or which period of the past they belong to, and museums were categorised accordingly. This allowed a better and more precise back-in-time experience.
For instance, Egypt has many diverse museums dedicated to a certain period of its precious history. The most famous of these are the museums about the ancient Pharaoh civilization. There are also those museums about the Romans’ and the Greeks’ ‘visits’ to Egypt, in addition to the Coptic and Islamic museums.
Categories: The Normal
But then an exclamatory yet valid question popped up. Why should museums be limited to political history? What about nature? Science, with all its branches? So we dedicated more museums to natural history, science, technology, and astronomy.
Then another question emerged: Who said museums only have to be confined to historical things? Is every country’s unique culture not worthy of honouring and appreciation? What about different civilisations? Why not build these types of museums?
So we did.
That is why there are now a handful of bread museums in Europe celebrating a few thousand years of bread-making on the continent. In Germany, for instance, bread is a significant part of the culture. In fact, there are around 600 main types of bread and over 1,200 types of pastries in Germany alone! Such an unbelievable thing must be celebrated in a museum.
Japan has the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, honouring the country’s iconic noodle dish, as well as the Shimizu Sushi Museum for sushi.
Categories: The Bizarre
Yet, that was not enough—more and more of such ‘why not’ questions emerged. Consequently, new museums were opened to honour art, music, photography, railways, and jewellery, as well as public figures who made significant achievements in different fields.
At some point, things started getting a little out of control when some unusual, odd, weird and even bizarre museums began to appear.
A museum dedicated to mustard might sound a little unusual. Another dedicated to salt and pepper shakers is interestingly odd. China‘s tap water museum may be irrelevant to many, but England‘s museum for dog collars is pretty bizarre.
Not enough? How about India’s NIMHANS Brain Museum? While this could be impressive for medical students, only a few tourists, I believe, will love to see samples of what is inside their heads kept in a jar like pickles.
Well, these are not the only bizarre museum examples. In fact, there happen to be many of them scattered all over the world. Despite how odd their content may sound, these quirky museums were built for a reason and are there to serve a purpose.
So how about we dive deeper and learn the stories behind some of these bizarre museums? Maybe this will give us some insights into some things we barely know. Perhaps these museums will then sound less odd and more fun.
The Museum of Broken Relationship, Croatia
It is like breaking up with someone is not painful enough that someone in Croatia decided to keep the people reminded of it by establishing a museum dedicated primarily to sad love stories.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is a privately owned museum located in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. It was established by two friends, a sculptor named Dražen Grubišića and a film director, Olinka Vištica. Besides their friendship, these artists shared the lousy fate of having their romantic relationships ended.
One day in 2003, both friends, still trying to get over the pain, were chit-chatting together when they joked about how fun it would be to found a museum dedicated to those disappointingly failed relationships. They thought it would have collections of lovers’ personal items that belonged to their relationships.
The next day, Grubišića and Vištica realised the idea was not that ridiculous, and just like how you suddenly decide to stock all your furniture somewhere and travel to Kenya to help save cheetahs from going extinct, these two artists decided to bring the idea into reality.
And fortunately, they did.
The two Croatian artists did not intend to provoke bad emotions by establishing this museum. On the contrary, it was to highlight the significance of the relationships we have with others. They wanted to allow people to share their stories in some space dedicated to ‘secure the memory’.
Since those broken relationships were definitely important to the people who had them, the museum also intended to preserve whatever legacy they may have, whether it happened to be materialistic or non-materialistic.
At first, the two artists invited their friends to donate items that belonged to their past failed relationships. That was the only specification for anything to be displayed in the museum. Luckily, many people liked the idea, and items started piling up.
There were regular small items such as watches, shoes, postcards, drawings, keyrings, stuffed animals, tiny figures, rings, cups, books, puppets, glasses, keys, etc. Then donors started getting creative. Why send a typical love-story thing if you can send a more realistic one?
So there have been donations of a toaster and an espresso machine—how hard would it be to be reminded of your ex by espresso? Someone donated the iron he used to iron his wedding suit. A woman even donated the axe she used to wreck her ex-lover’s furniture into pieces as a way to release her rage after he broke up with her for another woman.
In 2006, the large collection was displayed in the art gallery Glyptotheque Zagreb in the heart of the city. Items were labelled with the dates of the relationships and where they occurred; however, the donors’ identities remained anonymous.
The museum was well-received by the audience. Many people liked the idea, and more and more visitors frequented the art gallery. Apparently, it was highly relatable.
At some point, the two Croatian artists decided to present their collection to a foreign audience. So they threw everything in a bag and set off for a worldwide tour. They first started with some European countries such as Germany, Serbia, the UK, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then they crossed the Atlantic and went to the USA in 2009 before they headed to Asia, South Africa, and South America.
The success of the museum abroad was no less than that at home. Many foreign visitors contributed to the collection by donating their own leftover items from their sad, failed relationships. So it got bigger, richer, and more diverse.
When they returned from their tours, the two founding artists sought a hosting location for their collections. They asked the Croatian Ministry of Culture for help. However, the ministry was neither impressed by nor even interested in the concept of the museum. So the two artists’ request for support was rejected.
Instead, they rented a relatively wide space in the city to host their extensive, diverse collection of items. The museum was opened in 2010, and locals and tourists stormed it.
Due to space-related issues, and since the collection is now huge, the large and old items were taken out of the display and instead sent and digitalised to the virtual museum, the online website. This website also allows broken-hearted donors worldwide to enrich the virtual museum by uploading pictures of their own items.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is located in the Baroque Kulmer Palace in the Upper Town of Zagreb. Summertime visits start from 1 June to 30 September, with the museum open every day from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. Winter time starts 1 October and ends 31 May. Opening times during winter are 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.
The museum used to have another branch in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA. It was mainly a corporation between the two founding artists and an American lawyer who fell in love with the museum after visiting it in Zagreb. So he decided to open a branch overseas.
The new 1000-square-metre museum opened in June 2016. Its items mostly came from broken hearts in Los Angeles, so the content is almost American, with a few things from the original museum in Croatia.
The museum in LA was also a success, but for some reason, it had to close in November 2017 in the hopes of finding a new location. As of 2023, the museum has not come back yet.
The Museum of Bad Art, USA
Art, as the expression of human creativity, is a truly unique thing. While every artist communicates something through their work, the audience gets to evaluate it based on their personal experiences and views. That is why it is normal to find a certain piece appealing to some but unpleasant, vague, and sometimes even detestable to others.
In other words, art is relative.
Yet, some do disagree. Those who run art museums, exhibitions, and art galleries, the ‘art experts’, have apparently sewed up the right to label some art as good and another as bad. They decide what makes a masterpiece, even if a single audience member doesn’t like it, and what is too inadequate even to archive.
As a result, hundreds of works of art are rejected every day because they are ‘too bad’. Besides this being completely unfair, it kills the dreams of many passionate creatives whose work never gets celebrated anywhere.
But just like with the Museum of Broken Relationships, an American guardian angel, a real art advocate, popped up out of nowhere to appreciate the abandoned art pieces.
The Museum of Bad Art was also established by two friends who especially appreciated what others considered bad or ugly art. The museum is not a prestigious art trash but rather a space to honour artists not honoured elsewhere.
The founders wanted to pay tribute to the artists’ attempts, time, effort, and passion, so they dedicated this very museum to their work. But for their work to be hosted in the museum, it must display genuinely poor artistic skills and unforgivable mistakes!
That said, how did all of this start?
One day back in 1994, Scott Wilson, an antique dealer based in Boston, Massachusetts, was strolling around the neighbourhood when a rustic wooden frame leaning on a large trash bin with some other stuff caught his attention. He grabbed the frame and came across a painting. “Not that bad,” he must have told himself, and he took it home.
When Wilson showed the trash-recovered painting to his friends, they liked it. So he encouraged them to bring along any similar pieces if they ever encountered one. With the second piece Wilson found, he and his friend Jerry Reilly, who liked both paintings so much, decided to start a collection.
Months after months, the lovely, ugly pieces were piling up, and within just one year, the collection was big enough for display. So Wilson and Reilly started setting up receptions at their shared home in town to display these works and invited people to view their collection.
It is unknown whether Willson and his friend anticipated such success. As hundreds of people came in to view the collection of bad art, they fell in love with it and spread the word about it, which made more and more people come.
When the collection got too big, and the house suddenly became too small to host it, Wilson and Reilly had to move it to another location and officially open a museum for bad art. So the home museum was moved to its first official location at a theatre basement in Dedham, Massachusetts.
After that, Wilson and Reilly decided to exhibit the collection in different places, in other words, to go on an intra-city tour. They moved among different locations around Massachusetts that hosted various exhibitions of the bad art collection. Interestingly, the museum was so successful that many museums in several other states, such as Virginia, New York City, and Ottawa, borrowed some ‘bad art’ items to display them there.
As the collection was getting bigger and bigger, Wilson and Reilly had to open several branches. Most, if not all, of these branches were not in separate locations but rather inside other places, mostly theatres.
That said, the Museum of Bad Art encountered bad luck not because it suddenly lost the audience’s interest but because many of the locations that hosted the branches closed down one after another for different reasons. Then all the remaining venues were closed in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The Museum of Bad Art got the chance to open again in September 2022. It is now hosted in a brand new location, Dorchester Brewing Company’s Tap Room, Boston, Massachusetts. The museum is open during the company’s business hours which happen to be all week long but at different times every day.
It can be pretty amusing to visit or, at the very least, learn about such unusual places. If you ever make it to Croatia, you can check out these amazing attractions and learn about the Croatian flag. But if you are travelling much farther, maybe to the US, you can check out these amazing road trips for a more enjoyable vacation.