Jackie Robinson Museum

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 2/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 74 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In 1956 the Brooklyn Dodgers made a goodwill tour of Japan. It’s a footnote to Jackie Robinson’s story but I loved the display containing photos, tickets, and other souvenirs from that trip. Jackie Robinson / Dodgers program in Japanese

I grew up a fan of both science fiction and dry English humor. As a result, whenever I see the number 42 I immediately think of the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. 

42 - 9 - 5 : Jackie Robinson's numbers as a professional athleteIf instead I had grown up in Brooklyn and been a fan of baseball, the number 42 would’ve had a similarly huge and cosmic significance. It was Jackie Robinson’s number when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1956.

That significance of 42 is explored in detail at one of New York City’s newest museums (as of April 2023), the Jackie Robinson Museum, located somewhat unexpectedly in Soho. 

Jackie Robinson Museum

Texts and timelines

The Jackie Robinson Museum occupies a bright ground floor space at the corner of Canal and Varick Streets. It’s something of a shame, actually, as the south-facing windows are almost entirely blocked by displays. A bit of daylight sneaks around them, but the design diminishes some the potential awesomeness of the space.

The museum comprises two main galleries: One devoted to Robinson the man and the other to Robinson the athlete. Smaller spaces invite visitors to “speak out, stand up!” (in a stairwell) and highlight Jackie Robinson in pop culture (by the restrooms). The curators take a role-based approach to Robinson’s life: soldier, activist, entrepreneur, family man, and of course athlete. Each of those pillars of the man is represented by a literal pillar in the museum, summarized by nice little infographics of key stats: “Jackie by the Numbers.”

There's a lot to read at the Jackie Robinson Museum

Infographics notwithstanding, the museum is extremely text-heavy — it felt like reading a Jackie Robinson biography printed on the walls (the photo here is typical). Indeed, it surprised me how little video the museum uses. (More on that in a moment.)

Beyond the copious amounts of text, each gallery contains a giant wall-filling timeline, one for Robinson’s life and one for his sports career.

Timeline of Jackie Robinson's life and times
Timeline blocking a view of Canal Street

Where’s Jackie Robinson?

If there was one thing missing from the Jackie Robinson Museum it’s, surprisingly, Jackie Robinson himself. For sure, there are lots of photos of him, and memorabilia, and quotations in wall texts. But for a very famous person who must’ve given countless radio and television interviews — the museum says that he even starred in his own biopic — there’s very little of that in the Jackie Robinson Museum.

It’s a notable contrast to the presence of Louis Armstrong that fills the wonderful Louis Armstrong House in Queens. Louis’s self-recorded audio journals bring the place to life. Here, Robinson doesn’t tell his own story so much as have it told for him, and the experience is poorer for it.

Wall of multimedia recordings of interviews about Jackie Robinson

It’s not that the place is against media. There’s a whole corner of interactive tablets featuring  public figures delivering encomiums to Jackie Robinson’s general awesomeness, but not Robinson himself.

I’m never one to advocate for tech for its own sake, but in this metaversal age, if there’s any New York museum that could justify a tasteful holographic re-creation of its raison d’etre, it’s this museum.

The museum does include a fun, interactive, multi-sensory recreation of Ebbets Field (the Dodgers’ legendary stadium in Flatbush). So the curators thought along these lines.

A taste of Ebbets Field
Multimedia, interactive, Ebbets Field

Should you visit the Jackie Robinson Museum?

Old-school Brooklynites, Dodgers fans, and fans of historic moments in racial integration will definitely want to visit the Jackie Robinson Museum. Fans of Jackie Robinson’s story should also visit the awesome City Reliquary, which houses a lighthearted shrine to the man.

The museum does its job. I learned a significant amount about a historical figure I didn’t know all that much about –beyond his key historic achievement. However, I wish the narrative struck a better balance between the history and the fun, and with a lot less to read.

And when it comes to fun, the Jackie Robinson Museum swings and misses. For sure, the difficult, painful challenges of fighting racism and integrating Major League Baseball are stories this museum needs to tell. But this is also a story about baseball, and Chock Full O’Nuts coffee (When he retired from the Dodgers, Robinson became a VP there, the first Black vice president of a major American company), and being one of the most famous athletes in the world. It’s not that the Jackie Robinson Museum ignored the triumphs in Jackie Robinson’s life. It’s just that the balance felt off, and the man himself felt strangely absent. And that makes it hard to recommend to anyone with a merely casual interest.

Jackie Robinson Apple Ad

For Reference:

Address 75 Varick Street, Manhattan
Website jackierobinsonmuseum.org
Cost  General Admission:  $18
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Hunter College Art Galleries

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent
  • 205 Hudson: 21 minutes
  • Leubsdorf: 12 minutes
  • East Harlem: 17 minutes
  • Artist’s Institute: 3 minutes

Total: 53 minutes

Best thing I saw or learned At 205 Hudson, Dario Robelto’s “I Miss Everyone Who Has Ever Gone Away,” 1997 recreated 2007. 

Hunter College Art Galleries

Little airplanes folded from the wrappers of candies from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s famous candy-pile artworks memorializing AIDS victims.  It’s artistic appropriation in the most unexpected and literal way.

I discovered early in this project that just about every college in New York City has some kind of public art gallery or museum. Some are extremely impressive, like NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. A few have a specific focus, like the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art. And some of them are surprisingly impressive and hard to get to, like the Lehman College Art Gallery and the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College.

Hunter College boasts not one but four art venues, collectively the “Hunter College Art Galleries.” If this were earlier in my museum expedition, I probably would write about each of them separately. At this stage, though, I crave variety in my write-ups, to say nothing of efficiency. And Hunter itself thinks of them in the collective. So my review covers all four spaces in one. It gets four dots on the map, though. Continue reading “Hunter College Art Galleries”

Swiss Institute

Edification value  
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 14 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned To complement the silent Warhol videos, the Swiss Institute played a recording of Erik Satie’s piano piece, “42 Vexations.”  I felt a goodly number of vexations while at the Swiss Institute, but fewer than that.

Swiss Institute Contemporary Art, New YorkThe Swiss Institute is a tiny open gallery space in the ground floor of an old Tribeca building.  It’s small and very straightforward, with a little exposed brick and some antique floor tile, but without much floor area to play around with.

Seeing the place, I hypothesized that it was named after a guy, like it’s the gallery of Mike Swiss.  However, I’ve confirmed it is the country, not a person.  I’m a little puzzled by why the Swiss might want to have a tiny art space in a city replete with them.  Is it fiercely neutral? Quixotically democratic? Do they serve great chocolate? None of those things as far as I could tell.

Currently the Swiss Institute is participating in the artist Ugo Rondinone’s multi-gallery birthday present to his husband, “I John Giorno.”  I saw another part of that installation at White Columns a week ago.

Warhol Films Sleep, Induces Same

Here, Rondinone (who is Swiss, so at least there’s some kind of connection) features a series of Andy Warhol videos. Young John Giorno was Warhol’s muse and lover.  Projected super-large on the wall in digitized grainy black-and-white is “Sleep” (1963), featuring over five hours of Giorno sleeping. *Yawn.*

Warhol's "Sleep," Swiss Institute New York
Warhol’s “Sleep,” and other videos

Cathode-ray tube monitors around the perimeter of the gallery feature other Warhol videos of Giorno and mutual friends. Two videos show him in the altogether: hanging out (literally) in a hammock and doing the dishes.

I appreciated that they’re showing the videos on CRTs.  As at BRIC House, showing video art on the intended screen works way better than trying to put it on a modern, retina display panel.

However, I find Warhol’s videos insanely boring.  His screen test close-ups of people just sitting there, his home-movie-style shaky cam videos of his friends goofing around, his naughty videos of naked guys… All of it seems amateurish and tame and lame.  Rondinone curating Warhol’s work in the context of his self-indulgent project doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It also doesn’t make it particularly Swiss.Swiss Institute New York

You Can Miss the Swiss

I don’t know who should go to the Swiss Institute.  Of course, it might be worth it depending on the content of future shows. But unless they move, they will never have space to show very much of anything. There are many better, bigger, more interesting places to see art in this city. Unless they manage a blockbuster coup of a show (which old Warhol videos of Giorno are definitely not), or start giving away free chocolate, it’s very safe to skip this one.

For Reference:

Address swissinstitute.net
Website 102 Franklin Street, Manhattan
Cost Free

American Numismatic Society Gallery

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 22 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In addition to coins, the Numismatic Society has some paper money, including this 1855 Bank of NY note.  It’s been a while since I  heard the phrase “queer as a three dollar bill” but I never thought I’d actually see one.

The American Numismatic Society is the center for all things related to the world of coins and coin collecting.  Their offices in Tribeca are literally a vault,  with a heavily secured air lock-style entry way.  There’s a noticeable difference in air pressure when you go in, too. 

As well it should be. They have a very large reference collection and heaven only knows what all that coinage might be worth.

And yet, for reasons I’m unclear on, they nonetheless have a small display area of about four cases open to the public.  Any schmoe can wander in off the street, show a photo ID and sign in, and take a look.

There are definitely some interesting things, and everything is well-labeled and explained.  They have commemorative medals as well as currency, and among the more exotic types of money on display are some examples of African iron currency, which tended to be very difficult to carry around in your pocket.

I think the Society’s exhibit is too small to strongly recommend a visit.  But it does offer a brief-but-thorough overview of coinage through the ages, going all the way back to a cuneiform tablet.  If you’re at all curious or you collected coins as a kid you might enjoy dropping by.

For Reference:

Address 75 Varick Street, 11th Floor, Manhattan
Website numismatics.org
Cost Free
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