Few museums in the world actually flirt with their visitors, and when you encounter such a place, it's very easy to fall in love—not with a given collection, but with the romance of its display. Situated on Venice Boulevard between a realty office and an In-N-Out Burger, the Museum of Jurassic Technology projects an understated dignity at odds with its surroundings, as well as with the monumental architecture favored by most cultural institutions. Inside, the space is as dimly lit as a religious shrine, and on entering its labyrinth of exhibits, the viewer plunges into an enveloping, womb-like obscurity, completely dislocated from the outside world.

For all its kinship to a mausoleum, the MJT is equipped with the kind of state-of-the-art display technology proper to a contemporary natural history museum. Visitor-activated exhibits, multi-media dioramas and other audio-visual presentations chart out an eclectic terrain ranging from a model of Noah's Ark to exhibits on esoteric South American bats and questionable geological phenomena. Traditional glass-and-wood vitrines shelter an array of preserved insects, animal bones, and technological artifacts like the antiquated Boules of Conundrum, a brass mechanism for producing manmade gems.

As you make your way through its shadowy halls, a vaguely disturbing thought arises like a faint scratching at a back window of the mind: while this is supposedly a Museum of Jurassic Technology, there are few displays which actually make reference to either the geographic Jurassic (the area of the lower Nile) or the prehistoric time period. Yet the museum's varied subjects are approached with reassuringly meticulous scholarship. Boorishly academic panels of text legitimize even the quirkiest exhibits, and the voice narrating the audio components is a familiar one: pedantic, slightly pompous, logical and devoid of ambiguity. It's a Voice of Authority, and the moment you hear it you feel you can believe everything you're being told, even when—as in a jungle diorama depicting the self-destructive compulsion of the Cameroonian stink ant—"nature" is presented as a metaphor or parable rather than an object of scientific study. With this flawless delivery, the museum enacts its stated mission of leading viewers "from familiar objects toward the unfamiliar . . . guided along, as it were, a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life." — Ralph Rugoff, from Circus Americanus


The Eye of the Needle

Essay by Ralph Rugoff

File this one under Curiosities and Wonders. The focus of this book is the microsculptures of Halgop Sandaldjian. The artistic renderings of this Egyptian-born, Armenian- raised transplant to Los Angeles literally fit inside the eye of a needle.
“An unexpected sneeze or misdirected breath could blow away a microminiature with hurricane force… Early in his career he would spend hours hunting for these missing children, carefully combing every inch of desk and floor space in his study, but eventually he realized that such searching was futile. Once a piece was lost, it was lost for good.”
This booklet was produced to complement an exhibit of his “microminiatures” at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and covers a lot of ground, as it includes the story of an intuitive and self-driven would-be violin virtuoso, a history of micro-art—including methods, philosophical ponderings, and instruction in learning to play the violin using Sandaldjian's self discovered “Ergonomic” techniques. Last but not least, the book is a work of art in itself, beautifully put together—even its smell adds to it sunique character. Curiously, there is a strange omission from the author's tour of miniature art: the flea circus, the only micro-performing art… He mentions everything else, and gets close with a mention of fleas in dresses. TC

Publisher: Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information
Paperback: 95 pages

No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again: Letters to Mt. Wilson Observatory 1915-1935

Edited by Sarah Simons

In scientific crankdom the essential benevolence of the human spirit is most freely, and winningly, expressed. From the archives of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the best museum in the United States, comes this little book containing the letters—entirely genuine letters—reprinted in that were addressed to the astronomers of Pasadena's Mt. Wilson Observatory. The correspondents set forth, briefly or at stupefying length, their delightfully inventive cosmologic theories—the Earth is flat, our bodies are linked by radio to heaven, comets are the “chore boys” of the universe—and offer them freely to a world they imagine is desperately waiting to hear them. The world, like Mt. Wilson's astronomers, ignores these non-traditional theorists, laughs at them, and sometimes breaks their hearts; but it never shuts them up, and for that we should all be grateful. “The moon is a sphere and it works the clouds by night; it is not a Planet, and should not be interfered with.” The human mind, when unleashed, is a glorious thing to behold. JW

Publisher: Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information
Paperback: 120 pages