The Museum of Jurassic Technology is certainly the most unusual museum in Los Angeles County and the most unusual we've visited anywhere. It describes itself as "an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic." The problem for us is that "Lower Jurassic" is generally defined in science as the earliest epoch in the Jurassic geologic period, from about 200 to 174 million years ago.* The museum doesn’t elaborate on what it means by “Lower Jurassic” nor could we discern as much from its exhibits. However, we did later find an interview in which founder David Wilson explained the use of the term “Jurassic” was homage to prehistoric artifacts contained in a large collection early donated to the museum.**
The museum exhibits themselves seemed as unrelated as possible (although, to be fair, this we encountered at big, mainstream museums). Among the exhibits is a collection of unusual letters written to the Mount Wilson Observatory. There is a model of Noah’s ark. Displayed is a horn said to have grown out of a woman’s head. There are rooms devoted to a theoretician named Geoffrey Sonnabend and an opera singer named Madalena Delani (somehow connected). There is an exhibit of items found at Los Angeles trailer parks along with a number of trailer park dioramas. There is microscopic art under a bank of microscopes. There is a figure of a man, viewed through lenses, imposed inside the taxidermied head of a coyote (yes, just as described). Upstairs there are rooms honoring dogs used in the early Soviet space program (“The Lives of Perfect Creatures”), an early proposed Soviet spaceship (Soviet Russia seemed disproportionately represented) and the culture of string art (with ghostly hands demonstrating techniques). There is tea parlor and a tranquil Moorish-style rooftop garden where one might enjoy the tea. Our favorite exhibit was “Tell the Bees” detailing old folk beliefs and behaviors.
We entered the museum with no advanced knowledge other than that this would be an unusual museum. When we left, we were bewildered. Some suggest the museum is actually satire or irony, that it is a critique of museums or of art, science, and belief systems. Others maintain the exhibits are largely fabrications as if an elaborate magic act. We ourselves often wondered at whether persons and artifacts in the exhibits were actually real. The museum, however, appears to take itself quite seriously and this was reinforced in the aforementioned interview with Wilson.** The museum has been described as reminiscent of 16th Century “cabinets of curiosities” that were early versions of today’s natural history museums. For our part, we found the museum to be disorienting, especially since we are used to the world-class museums around Los Angeles. Nothing in the Museum of Jurassic Technology was as expected. Everything was puzzling. Nothing seemed to be explicable. We were unsure why items were displayed as they were and whether they were fact or fiction. We could not anticipate what we might see next and the layout of the museum seemed like a maze. We even have no idea what to make of the museum’s logo. Leaving the museum felt as much like an escape as it did an exit.
Perhaps, the point of the Museum of Jurassic Technology is that the world is not so balanced, predictable, and explicable as we believe or want it to be. We were surprised that we actually desired to revisit the museum. We want to see it again, but, this time in slow motion (so-to-speak), unsure even that our experience was real. Even if the museum is indeed a great hoax, it seems like some sort of genius. Perhaps, this is why visitors, believer and skeptic alike, continue to come.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology was founded in 1988 by husband and wife David and Diane Wilson. David Wilson was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship (unofficially called the “Genius Grant”) in 2001. The museum is reported to receive 25,000 visitors each year.
In 1995, Lawrence Weschler, in his book Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), sought to distinguish fact from fiction through interviews with founder David Wilson and research into the claims of Museum of Jurassic Technology exhibits. Weschler concluded that some exhibits were no more than imagination, but found some to be credible enough for a natural history museum.
* Infoplease, Table of Geological Periods
** Bob Dobbs Talks With David Wilson
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
9341 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232