Walking on a busy sidewalk in Culver City, a city located in western Los Angeles County that is filled with ancient buildings, you probably will not notice the existence of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. While the museum seems only detectable to local people or art students, the museum is actually worth more than being a Sunday afternoon amusement for general audiences; its significance is very much underrated by the general public. When you actually take time to feel the atmosphere, to experience the flow, and to understand the artwork, you will be shocked and amazed by its unity and reoccurring theme of wonder. How would I explain the experience? Imagine standing under the shadow that is cast by the waving trees in front of the museum, you open a green rusty entrance door and enter a dimmed and quiet room that is filled with books and images on the wall. The sudden silence makes you feel like you have entered into another world, a world that separates you from the bright and noisy street you were just standing on seconds ago. Stepping on the red velvet carpet that covers the entire museum floor, you gradually move into an even darker room and start to hear sounds and music coming from every angle of the room. You wander around and try to find a path to follow, but you will not be able to do so because the purpose of the MJT is to create a personal experience that is different from any ordinary moments in life. The museum is basically a maze; as you enter a room, more rooms will appear and there is no one true direction. You will almost get lost, both physically and mentally, in the atmosphere and structure of the museum. Not only because the artworks that are chosen to display are mysterious, but also because of the gradual pace, the mixing sounds, and the use of light and shadow that unite the museum’s theme of wonder. Although the Museum of the Jurassic Technology may be criticized for its unusual structure, its unique atmosphere and artwork should definitely be valued and appreciated by all viewers.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology was founded in 1987 by David Wilson and his wife Diana Wilson on Venice Boulevard in Culver City. David Wilson started as an avant-garde filmmaker but soon discovered his interest in working in theaters and museum space. Although as a privately owned museum the MJT has a huge financial issue, Wilson never gave up on doing what he loved and was able to maintain the museum and receive the MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2001. Wilson incorporated art and technology as one of the themes of the museum. He wished that the museum would provoke curiosity and rich but unique interpretations from its viewers. Looking at Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler, Marcia Tucker, director of New York’s New Museum, stated that “[the Museum of Jurassic Technology] is like a museum, a critique of museums, and a celebration of museums—all rolled into one” (Weschler, 40). Although the MJT has collected artworks that are associated with many different genres and ideas and were categorized in different sections in the museum, they all have the common quality of being on the border line between real and fake, narrative and scientific, historical and fictional, and magical and reasonable. On a museum review article on the MJT from New York Times, the writer Edward Rothstein stated, “Here some things are invented but seem true; others are true but seem invented. And it is not always clear which is which” (Rothstein). This characteristic of the museum not only criticizes the truthfulness of museum art, or high art, but also proves that the value of “made-up” or imaginative works is equally influential to the viewers. These artworks, approaching the theme of wonder in different ways, play a major role of completing and fulfilling Wilson’s ideal museum.
Besides technology and factual history, the artwork in the MJT also constantly involves illusions, impossibilities, and mysteries of the world. In the collection The World is Bound with Secret Knots created by Athanasius Kircher, who has devoted his whole life upon completing, a Bell Wheel hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room rolls and creates tinkling sounds whenever a viewer walks into the room. Other works in the collection spread around the sides of the room and all consist of images of godly creatures that can only be seen through installed plate glasses and reflected lights. Clearly, this collection is meant to create illusions from glass and light but at the same time also maintain its technical trait and real-time sounds from the ringing bell, bringing the viewers back to reality. Another collection called The Eye of the Needle- the unique world of microminiatures by Hagop Sandaldjan, demonstrates a mastering of the impossibility. Sandaldjian carves vivid characters by hand inside the eyes of needles and viewers have to look through a twenty-five power magnifying devise in order to see the works. This almost impossible task is also included in the MJT because it blurs the line between reality and imagination. In the collection Tell the Bees, mythical beliefs from different cultures are being made into sculptures. Viewers are then made to believe that these descriptions of cultural beliefs are actual facts proved by the seemingly real wall captions. But the truth is only imaginary. These mysteries can never be proven by technology but they are comprehended as if they are real. Most importantly, they are displaying in a museum of “technology,” and are not only ironic in the works’ supernatural quality, but also gives off a false sense of proof to the art pieces. On the wall of the first room of the museum, it states that “The Museum of the Jurassic Technology… The learner must be led always from familiar objects toward the unfamiliar…guided along as it were, a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life”. The MJT is trying to ask its viewers, or the learners, to access a world that is different from everyday affairs, and like a chain of flowers, to move and spread their thoughts in the cabinet of wonder.
If the artwork in the MJT is displayed in a large and famous museum like LACMA, it would not have the same amount of impacts as it has in the MJT. The narrow alleys, the dimmed lights, the cold air, the red carpets, and the speaking rooms all add to the artwork’s effect of wonder. Viewers can never walk fast enough to miss out any of the wall captions and they are constantly scared of what will come to them next. When the audios playing in each room blend with the viewers’ murmuring and movements, there is almost another performance piece being created through the viewers’ reactions and interactions. After the viewers are completely trapped in the museum’s mysterious atmosphere, they will then access a different space again. As they enter a small garden full of birds on the second floor of the museum, they enter another atmosphere that represents heaven, peace, and freedom from enigma. The MJT has overcome its inadequacy in space and funding and uses its weakness to strengthen the overall concept of wonder.
I remember that after I left the museum, an old man across the street yelled at me, saying “you just went to that museum? That museum is fake!” I think he is both right and wrong. Thinking about the Tell the Bees collection and some extraordinary facts, like A horn which had grown on the back of a woman’s head, I feel it is true that the MJT does contain information that cannot be judged by the viewers as real. However, I also believe the museum is a real museum because I think the intention of putting together fake works is not to fool the viewers but it is to actually let its viewers become more critical of things they see. Not merely being passive spectators, the viewers should consider both the real and the fake works as a path to discovering the meanings behind the structure of the Museum of the Jurassic Technology.
Pohflepp, Sascha. “The Museum of Jurassic Technology.” – We Make Money Not Art. N.p., 16 Aug. 2008. Web. 27 July 2012. .
Rothstein, Edward. “MUSEUM REVIEW; Where Outlandish Meets Landish.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 27 July 2012. .
Weschler, Lawrence. Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. New York: Pantheon, 1995. Print.