Museum of Unnatural History

Review

of an Exhibition

by Nina Simon

Published on December 17, 2010, Modified on December 28, 2010

  • Description:

    I’m on a personal quest to visit all the 826 tutoring centers in the U.S. From the Time Travel Mart (LA) to Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., these quirky storefronts showcase smart design and offbeat humor in the service of a truly impressive slate of writing programs for kids. You can read Dan Spock’s review of the Brooklyn one here: http://www.exhibitfiles.org/brooklyn_superhero_supply_co and my review of the original, 826 Valencia in San Francisco, here: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2008/03/826-valencia-education-humor-pirates.html

    On a recent trip to DC, I got to experience the newest of the crop, the Museum of Unnatural History. This may be the best one from the museum insider perspective, lampooning dioramas, suspect methods of collection, and various archeological practices. But I question its effectiveness for 826’s core audience of low-income kids and families. “Curator of invertebrates” just doesn’t hold the same childhood fascination as “superhero” or “pirate.”

    Nonetheless, I’m thrilled that Dave Eggers and his merry crew applied their copious talents to our field. Some of it is downright silly (“The Planets That Were Asked to Leave the Solar System and How They Felt About It”), some is interactive (a “make your own creature” station). Most of the examples are in the photos, but here are a couple transcribed labels that are particularly relevant to museum folks.

    On deaccessioning:
    “Hunted to extinction for its valuable appendages, this stuffed Owlephant is one of the last remaining examples of the species. Sadly, its ivory tusks, ivory internal organs, and gold teeth have fallen out over the years and are lost to the museum forever. Because we sold them. We do what we have to do.”

    On donors:
    “Joseph Gellard has donated a total of eight priceless Weagles to unnatural museums around the globe. He has also given over $20 million to protect the shrinking habitat of the Weagle and other endangered rodento foutum. Born in 1936, Gellard amassed his fortune as the CEO of SHARPATTACK Weapons for Robbers, Muggers, and Assaulters. He lives on a boat.”

    Their comment board is a slab of stone, a sharp stone, and a hammer. When my friend tried to leave a comment, the staff member hid to avoid flying chips of rock.

    And for Los Angelenos, they are selling shirts that say, “What happens in the La Brea tar pits stays in the La Brea tar pits.” So true.

Latest Comments (2)

Zora's Other Museum of Unnatural History

by Jason jay Stevens - December 25, 2010

Zora Neale Hurston imagined another “American Museum of Unnatural History” in a 1950 essay. Her’s displayed stereotypes of non-Anglo-Saxons, as contrived by the critically uncurious and disinterested white American. For example, "The American Indian is a contraption of copper wires in an eternal war-bonnet, with no equipment for laughter, expressionless face and that says “How” when spoken to."
Happily, we’ve come a long way in 60 years, especially in the museum field.
Unhappily, Hurston’s essay still resonates because racial/religious stereotypes and ignorance thrive in America, as postracial as we’d like to imagine we are.
Happily, this 826 has nothing in common with its namesake.
That comment slab is priceless!

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