When I googled Museum of Jurassic Technology, I stumbled on a blog post on ARTINFO unearthing Yelp complaints about the museum. A few read, Avoid this place like the plague, and This place is just stupid, and the blog’s favorite, Your exhibits are old and falling apart. Your strange, but not strange fascinating. Strange like a hobo that I don’t want to talk, too.
David Wilson, the founder of the museum with his wife, has additional stories to share. “When people come here they have all different kinds of experiences,” he begins. Some laugh at everything they see. Or, he continues, “We have people who hate us. There are in almost all of our guest books places where people haven’t just crossed out their name when they leave, but they obliterate it. They make it so you couldn’t possibly tell that they had been here.”
To these disgruntled visitors, I say, “Have you sipped tea and nibbled cookies in the Tula Tea Room and relaxed in the rooftop garden? I cannot think of a negative thing to say about these two spots. For me, they are Wilson’s greatest accomplishments.
In 2001, Wilson scored a MacArthur genius grant and decided to invest in, among other things, a tea room and rooftop garden. Construction began seven years ago, and the spaces that wanderers see today are the result of budgetary constraints. He would have liked to do more.
Wilson wanted to expand the experience of the museum for some time, and he jumped on the award as a means to an end. “We have way too much text by normal museum standards,” he relays, “you just glaze over. We’ve come to understand there’s a need for respite.”
For inspiration, Wilson looked to other museums and architectural wonders, like the Sir John Soane Museum in London, the Sant Pau monastery in Barcelona and the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “We draw on things that are inspiring to us. Our travels took us a few years ago to Uzbekistan, so a lot of this,” he says, looking around the serene, greenery-laden garden echoing the sounds of the spouting fountain off the walls, “is Uzbekistan.”
For the museum’s haters, I would agree with Wilson that, “Nothing is for everyone.” If you don’t like uncertainty, don’t walk this way. “I don’t mind being confused,” assures Wilson. “I think it’s an illusion to think you really know things. You can claim an area, but do you really know? Where was it you came from, ultimately? You don’t know. That’s a lot truer. Some people, understandably, don’t like to be in that place. Those I think are people that don’t like us. And that’s O.K.”
“For certain kinds of folks, a certain particular way of knowing seems like the real hope for the species,” Wilson goes on. “That by knowing things in a certain way we can overcome the obstacles of life, disease, natural disasters. That should be the mission for the species, that kind of progressing of knowledge.” To the contrary, Wilson points out, “Many ways of knowing things ends up being a really valuable thing.” He often delivers sentences like this that read like mantras and affirm his belief in doubt, such as, Blurred boundaries are much more real, and I’ve spent most of my life confused.
The certainty-loving types would be wise to contemplate the purpose of any museum. Wilson explains that in 1984 when his place popped up, modern society was experiencing a crisis in museums. The digital age was dawning and the museum world was interested in what he was doing differently to appeal to people. Wilson even received an invite from the British version of the American Association of Museums to be the keynote speech at their conference. Wilson was so shocked that he wrote to them and explained they must have meant to request the other David Wilson, the past director of the British Museum who had just retired. No, they responded, they had meant him.
Rather than providing the entertainment for that night, as Wilson jokes, “Institutions were realizing what’s the place of the museum when you carry in your pocket access to information that is exponentially way beyond what any museum could present; what’s the place of the museum?”
In establishing the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Wilson has answered his own question: What would happen if he worked as hard as he did on his film work on something he cared about?
Photos of the Tula Tea Room and Rooftop garden
Wilson speaks about the garden
And about the naysayers