The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, LA, is strange little place. I could try to describe it room by room, with accurate nouns and such, but a literal retelling of my trip won’t do it justice. Plus, I don’t want to spoil it for you, in case you ever end up going. It’s like The Sixth Sense – better if you don’t know the twists, although still worth your time if you do.
So. Imagine a wealthy gentleman from an alternate dimension has welcomed you to visit his private collection of trinkets and trappings from around an alternate universe. The rooms are dark and the layout impossibly twisty. You move between reading plaques that you know are false and exhibits you think are probably true. Here and there there are unexplained contraptions in unmarked boxes, and once a day a little theater shows a hypnotically dreamy movie you can’t figure out. On the roof, a woman serves you tea from a samovar and you sit and drink it as tame pigeons fly around you.
I know that sounds weird, maybe a little Nightvale-esque. And that’s how it feels.
Let me provide some clarification here. First, The Museum of Jurassic Technology is not about technology, or the Jurassic, or any combination of those things. (To the people I’ve seen complaining about the lack of actual Jurassic Technology: friends, I have some bad news for you about the technological achievements of dinosaurs.)
Second, the Museum is definitely a museum. Some people seem think that the MJT is an art installation, not a museum at all. I’m not sure what concept of a museum these people are working from, but I feel it’s arbitrarily narrow. A museum simply collects and displays objects of some significance. No one says they have to be upfront about everything. Besides, what exactly is the difference between a museum that’s actually an art installation and a plain old art museum?
The MJT invites you to think about museums. The Yelp reviews for the MJT are fascinating, as everyone seems to have strong opinions about what the museum’s purpose is and whether or not they enjoyed it. Reactions from others range from “interesting and creative” to “what’s the point of a museum if you don’t learn anything”? Multiple reviewers mention feeling like they were on drugs (glad I wasn’t the only one). Others talk about how creepy the place was or how dense the explanatory texts were.
The “Why would you go to a museum where you don’t learn anything?” issue is often repeated in negative reviews. This is a good place to mention that people go to museums for different reasons. Some go to learn. Some go to facilitate experiences for their children. Some seek a particular atmosphere, some visit museums because they were in town and it seemed like a cool thing to do. Every one of these reasons is a perfectly valid reason for visiting. (Here’s a bit more on the subject.) Museums aim to educate through collections, but administrators and visitors must realize that not everyone visits museums because they’re interested in absorbing facts from little white plaques.
Learning takes place in many ways – you can read about something, hear about something talk about something, or (most powerfully) experience something. Most people don’t spend much time thinking about the theory behind museums or their own reactions to exhibits. The MJT forces you to think about how you’re processing information, how museums are set up, and what your expectations of a museum are. Twisting halls make you think about layout. Dark rooms make you think about comfort and atmosphere. Long, long paragraphs of small print text make you think about exhibit design. Constantly catching yourself thinking “wait, is that real”? makes you think about how much faith you’ve previously put in exhibit designers. The elaborate bathroom and rooftop garden are unique, personal, and completely different from what most people expect, again making you think about what you expected and what you actually got.
That’s a little heady, so if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking around. I’ll wrap this up, as I don’t want to make the MJT sound pretentious or overly-meta. I don’t want to make it sound too much of anything at all, really. The museum is an experience in museums, a work of art, an interactive work of fiction, or an old building full of outright lies, depending on your perspective. If you’re in the area, it’s so worth the trip. Make sure to visit.