MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY: LOS ANGELES WELL KEPT SECRET

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Los Angeles is a very attractive city, often viewed as a place of pure entertainment. Superficial on many levels, most of the town business revolves around the industry of cinema, music, television, but also art. In this regard, the Getty Center, the LACMA or the Hammer Museum are the places to go for modern and contemporary art.

 

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{A THIRD TYPE EXPERIENCE}

However, the town holds another place of interest that only few people know about: the Museum of Jurassic Technology. The word “Jurassic” brings us back to an era where planet Earth was a playground for dinosaurs. In this context, it may seem rather odd to associate “technology” and “Jurassic” in a museum name.

The mystery goes on and on: nobody really knows what to expect of the place. It seems like the only persons who ring its doorbell are initiated visitors, or people who discovered it through word of mouth. So the first step is actually to learn about the existence of this museum.

The MJT is located in Culver City, one of the hottest art spots of Los Angeles, and home to many art galleries. The few touristic guides mentioning the MJT don’t really enlighten us about what’s inside the building, and most of the people who visited it say it was a “funny” or a “weird” experience. There is no billboard for it, no signs, and the website does not give much away either.

This is why the best way to find out about this place is to visit it.

Refereing to James Putam’s concept, the MJT could be described as a true « hybrid institution ». Owned by a couple, David and Diana Wilson, the museum appears as a typical European cabinet of curiosities.

Visitors enter through a heavy door after having rang the doorbell: they leave a shiny Californian day for a dark and cold building where they are welcome by awkward noises. The path is winding, filled with relics and worthless bric-a-brac that seem to have a meaning inside this place. To describe the content of this museum would be vane, since it simply looks like the inside of an antique shop where one could find dog paintings from the Russian space programs as well as a furry horn said to have grown on the forehand of a lady from the 16th century…

The mystery only gets thicker: what it this place about? What is real? What is false?

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{A MUSEUM ABOUT MUSEUMS}

At the end, the interesting thing about the MJT is that it talks about what a museum is: how to exhibit a shared memory? And what happen when this memory of the past is altered by alternative realities? Those are some of the questions the MJT is asking.

Refering to the MJT as a “funny” place would be simplistic, because beyond its funny aspect, it actually tackles philosophical fundamentals. From a curatorial practice standpoint, the MJT is a truly avant-garde concept and draw on the well-known idea of “wunderkrammer” or “cabinet of curiosities”. It recounts the history of discoveries and wonderment, based on the worth of “truth” and “reality”, and plays with it by confronting it with falseness.

As David Wislon phrased it, the MJT is “probably the most traditional museum ever”. Visitors are thrown into an environment where they have to engage in a real dialogue and physically interact with the art: they have to bend over, to look closer through magnifying glasses… The building also participates to the physical experience: visitors go from darkness to lightness (there is a garden on the last floor not to miss!-), from cold to warmth, and metaphorically, from strangeness to surrealism…

The MJT questions museum limits in that museums, even though they appear as conservative institutions per se, may not always speak the truth. What they display may not always be universal, but the biased vision of modern societies spreading around its own take on what is beautiful or ugly, and on the worth of things.

At the end, visitors will have to use their freedom to welcome this alternative to universal knowledge and see the world with new eyes…

 

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[1] “ Hybrid institution” term used in James Putnam’s: Art and Artifact: the Museum as Medium, Second Edition, Thames and Hudson Ed, New York, NY, 2009

[2] Interview avec D. Wilson, June 21, 2013

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