LA's enthralling Museum of Confusion

As heavy traffic crawls along Los Angeles' Venice Boulevard, I eat a grilled cheese sandwich at an outlet of the cult California burger chain, In-N-Out Burger.

I say it's a grilled cheese sandwich, though it strongly resembles one of the chain's famous burgers with the meat simply left out. Its "grilled-cheese-ness", I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.

The same philosophy is at work inside the nearby Museum of Jurassic Technology, entered via a mysterious blue door.

Having paid my entry fee, I'm soon in a warm and stuffy interior packed with displays. But what, precisely, does this museum exhibit?

An audiovisual introduction, voiced by a man with the warm Midwestern accent of a dad from a fondly-remembered sitcom, traces the role of the museum back to Noah's Ark ("the most complete museum the world has ever seen") and the displays of relics in medieval churches.

There's also a suggested link to the 17th-century wunderkammers, private museums of natural history and art compiled by European nobles.

This concept of "wonder rooms" is, I think, a key to understanding the MJT. For what I find as I walk through its cramped ground-floor chambers is a collection of disconnected but intriguing exhibits.

Not that all of it makes sense. On one wall there's a diagram of the ancient Battle of Pavia, but no text to explain the context of the battle. Beneath it, however, is a case of objects that look like eggs crafted from bone.

Past a cabinet dedicated to synthetic gemstone generation is a glass case containing the skeleton of a European mole. Nearby, a tiny 13-millimetre-wide almond stone is said to be carved with depictions of a Flemish man holding a viol, surrounded by various animals from rabbits to camels.

An entire room is devoted to letters sent to Mount Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1935. Its walls are covered with typed and handwritten letters addressing diverse eccentric topics: including religious questions, the transmutation of silver to gold, and a method of separating chemical compounds from solar rays.

Another exhibit deals with the strange connection of an engineer and a singer to the Iguasu Falls between Brazil and Argentina. Though neither met, both are jointly honoured.

By now, of course, I'm prey to the liveliest suspicions about the true nature of this "museum". Rather than being a sober historical institution, I think it's actually a giant art installation playing with the idea of being a traditional museum.

And the best is yet to come. Up a stairway there are airy chambers with a distinct Russian influence.

First up is a room devoted to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, an early rocket scientist who paved the way for the Soviet space program. Displays include sketches of cosmonaut suits and diagrams of rockets.

Next door is a collection of cat's cradles. As instructional videos play, the visitor may attempt to replicate the complicated designs by following along with the string provided.

I have a go at creating the "Osage Two Diamonds" cat's cradle, but become tangled. I move on to large panels describing the heroes of the art, including Honor Maude, who apparently scoured the Pacific islands for traditional string figures.

A room honouring dogs of the Soviet space program is hung with glamorous portraits of canines who made it to space before humans; then suddenly I'm in a Russian tea room, which leads to a beautiful rooftop garden with potted plants, water features, resident doves and elegant Moorish decor.

I want to cry "We're not in Kansas any more!" Which would seem appropriate, as The Wizard of Oz was filmed at the MGM studios about one kilometre from this spot.

Instead, I collect a free cup of tea from a Russian woman with a pet windhound, take it out to the garden, and contemplate the museum.

Is it art imitating life? Art imitating art? Or is it just Los Angeles up to its old storytelling tricks? Whatever's going on, it's fascinating.

Tim Richards paid for his airfare, and was hosted in LA by



Qantas flies to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Phone 131 313, see


Hotel Normandie, 605 Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles. Atmospheric, recently renovated 1926 hotel in the Koreatown district, handy for Metro trains. Rooms from $US180 a night. See

Culver Hotel, 9400 Culver Boulevard, Culver City. Classy boutique hotel that played host to many movie stars, including the cast of The Wizard of Oz. Rooms from $US280 a night. See


The Museum of Jurassic Technology is open 2-8pm Thursday and noon-6pm Friday to Sunday, at 9341 Venice Boulevard, Culver City. Admission $US8. See