On a nondescript stretch of Venice Boulevard, tucked between a yoga studio and a Thai takeaway restaurant, is arguably LA’s weirdest museum – it’s called the Museum of Jurassic Technology. As I approached the fountain outside the museum after agreeing to meet a friend there for my first visit I thought to myself, “Oh, Jurassic! That’s like dinosaurs, right? But…technology, too? Is this like T-rexes using their tiny hands to craft things with their hands?” That was a wild rollercoaster of thoughts, especially from someone who prides themselves on having worked in a decent smattering of museums. I was very, very wrong; but, that’s the point, really. The museum is meant to confuse and confound and delight and inspire awe. After all, a museum that has, according to its website, been described as “incongruity born of the overzealous spirit in the face of unfathomable phenomena” is a museum that transcends simple definitions or descriptions.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology’s website states that the museum “is an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.” Straightforward, right? Again, no. The museum’s collection has no connection to the Lower Jurassic or technology used in this period (given that there was no technology in that period, as it was 201.3 to 174.1 million years ago). Rather, the museum is full of scientific, ethnographic, artistic, and historic objects and exhibitions accompanied by object labels and descriptions of dubious authenticity. What’s real and what’s not? It’s impossible to know, and that’s the whole point. Objects on display include rats on a piece of toast accompanied by the maxim that it was once thought that eating mouse pie, or that mouse on toast could cure chronic bedwetting (which is not true), and a portrait of Laika, the first dog to orbit Earth (which is true). Real stories mix with fabricated ones to create a space and collection that evokes the cabinets of curiosities that were so popular 500 years ago. The museum displays more than 30 permanent exhibits in dark, small, maze-y hallways, including my personal favourites, “The World is Bound with Secret Knots: The Life and Works of Athanasius Kircher”; “The Lives of Perfect Creatures: The Dogs of the Soviet Space Program”; and “Fairly Safely Venture: String Figures from Many Lands and their Venerable Collectors.” The museum’s founder, David Wilson, was inspired by the house museums of Europe, especially Sir John Soane’s Museum, the former home of a neo-classical architect with a penchant for collecting paintings, sculptures, drawings, and antiquities and displaying them in a simultaneously organised and jumbled way. While the MJT is far less comprehensible and far more varied than Soane’s Museum, that intimacy with the objects on display, a result of the corridors being just a few inches larger than oneself, is the same.
But why does the MJT matter? Why go to this museum instead of or in addition to the many other museum offerings in LA? Well, not only will you see things in the MJT you’ll never see anywhere else, but, beyond that, you’ll be left asking yourself some big, exciting philosophical questions like, “Who decides what’s true? And who has the power to create truth in a museum? And what does it mean that this museum purposefully conflates and confuses truth?” It’ll make you think about truth and falseness and may lead to your entire world and what you know to be true tilting on its axis. Very few museums will leave you feeling as delightfully shaken up and full of wonder.
The MJT runs on suggested donations ($10 for adults, $8 for students, children up to 21 years old, pensioners, and unemployed individuals, and $3 for disabled individuals and active service personnel), and also features a museum shop as zany as the museum itself. A porcelain space dog? Check. A Christmas ornament of mice on toast? Also check. The shop is supervised by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information, a group that may or may not actually exist. And, as if you need more reason to visit the museum, there’s the Tula Tea Room, which serves free black tea and cookies. Have you ever been to a museum that provides free food? Doubt it!
As a note and a way to end this article, I must say the images I’ve included in this article are not my own, but not because of COVID-19 or the fact that I’m thousands of miles away from LA. It’s because no photography (and no cell phone use generally) is allowed inside the museum. Taking photos inside the museum wouldn’t help much, anyway. The displays are highly diverse, so I think images would do the museum’s purposeful weirdness a misjustice. Looks like you’ll just have to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology yourself next time you’re in LA. But only if it’s a Thursday from 2 to 8pm or a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday from 12 to 6pm.
* * *
Isabella Rosner is a PhD student at King’s College London, where she researches Quaker women’s decorative art before 1800. She’s a big fan of museums and has been lucky enough to take up curatorial internships and jobs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fitzwilliam Museum, LACMA, and Colonial Williamsburg. She runs and hosts the “Sew What?” podcast about historic needlework and the gals who stitched, and is far too active on Twitter at @IsabellaRosner and Instagram at @historicembroidery.