After hearing rave reviews from several friends of mine, I finally got to check out the Museum of Jurassic Technology yesterday in Los Angeles. What a strange and wonderful place.
Essentially a large art installation, the Museum of Jurassic Technology uses the artifice of a natural history museum to showcase a seemingly random collection of oddities, curios, and knick-knacks. The brilliance of the museum is the placards and audio guides that combine plausible sounding scientific language with completely ludicrous claims. But you don't have to actually read that much to appreciate the gonzo wackiness of the place.
Some of the exhibitions my friend and I found completely baffling, others hilarious, and some a bit disturbing. There is a gallery exhibiting portraits of dogs that were used in the Russian space program. Another room is full of x-rayed images of flowers that you view through a spectroscopic glasses. Dioramas of different trailer parks is the focus of another room.
Several of these exhibits were reminiscent of Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, the world's largest collection of “outsider art” in the world. Much of the art in the museum was created by patients in mental institutions, shamans and others in the midst of mystical trances, mentally retarded or otherwise marginalized individuals. The cumulative effect is to draw attention to the uncomfortably fuzzy line between artistic genius and madness.
Similarly, the Museum of Jurassic Technology causes you to question what is fact and fabrication. Everything is explained in academic prose, using scientific nomenclature, and with bold assertions of fact. And yet none of it can be possibly true, can it?
My favorite exhibit described different superstitions from various cultures, mostly related to warding off evil or bringing someone good luck. I didn't know that infants were not to have their nails cut for one year, or that kissing a duck's bill will cure various afflictions in children. Ant's eggs are apparently a “cure” for “love's affliction.” Fascinating.
Some exhibits are more frustrating than others. My friend and I suffered through an inscrutible 25 minute movie about a Russian tsar's microscopically small mechanical dancing flea, and a young gunsmith who shod the feet of the insect simalcrum. Or maybe it was about something completely different. It was hard to tell since it was all in Russian, with awkwardly translated subtitles.
After the film, we retired to a lovely little tea room next to the tiny theater, where we were served cookies and tea by a nice young lady. Lots of other puzzled patrons sat with us in the room, trying to fathom what the whole thing meant. Was it all an elaborate joke? A madman's fevered fantasy? An arch commentary on the portentious claims of museum curators?
I am still not really sure. But the Museum of Jurassic Technology was definitely like nothing I have ever experienced before.
[The Museum of Jurassic Technology is located at9341 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA. The Museum is open Thursday from 2pm to 8pm . Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 6pm. See their website for more information, most of which is completely untrue.]