His relationships with artists, the cornerstone of gallery life, seem to be exceptionally warm. "The effort Martin makes to bring quality art to Minneapolis is unusual," says Nicolas Africano, a nationally known classically informed sculptor, painter, and print artist based in Illinois. "He works hard to find examples of a range of younger and more established artists whose work departs from the mainstream."
Gallery owners and artists in the Twin Cities often complain about the lack of a vibrant art scene, and especially about the absence of a pool of local patrons. They talk about how the folks with money do their shopping in New York instead of here. They talk about how dead the scene is. But do not tell this to Martin Weinstein. For among his arsenal are a pair of related talents that define his gallery: Weinstein is a powerhouse at attracting well-known artists, and selling their work off the walls.
Weinstein's distracted mood changes suddenly when a van pulls up behind the gallery, and workers begin unloading framed photographs. Each piece is wrapped in glassine to protect it from the rain and elements--although Weinstein's attention to each package would seem to be enough to extend its own psychic umbra of safety. The sound of feet stamping overhead and the rustling of glassine are too much temptation for Weinstein to resist, and so he heads upstairs. I ask him if he will be busy now, since the show opens roughly 48 hours from now. Instead of answering, Weinstein stops at the top of the stairs.
"Wait," he says. "You have written some stuff about us, haven't you?"
I reply in the affirmative.
"And some of it has been negative. That's right, I remember now." There is a pause. His face becomes serious and clouds over a bit. "I think that's..." he starts to say, and struggles to find the right words. "You know... That's great. I'm not the sort of guy..."
Again there is a pause as his face twists into a thoroughly unreadable expression. He watches the crew bringing images into the gallery for a moment. They are stripping off the glassine noisily, and setting the framed photos on the floor against the walls. He continues finally: "I think that's great. One of the things that this city has been missing is an arts press....I want someone to write knowledgeably about the art scene here. I have no ax to grind. I love what I'm doing. I love the coverage. I'm happy."
The moment passed, Weinstein introduces me to Bob Mendel from the framing and display business Art Serve, and to his crew, Joe and Brad. All of them wear white gloves to protect the images and frames as they begin the process of hanging the work. Before that can happen, though, Weinstein begins to survey the galleries deliberately. He tells the crew where to move things, taking charge subtly. He never raises his voice, though his intonation has taken on much more authority. Every ear is attuned to his directions.
"Bob will tell me where I'm wrong," Weinstein says as he begins shuffling the order of the images through the gallery, moving photos here and there. "But I'm never wrong, right, Bob?"
The images are rough, painterly photos displayed in beautifully minimalist frames of black lacquered wood. Each around two feet by three feet in size, the moody black-and-white images have undertones of sepia and burnt umber that make them seem almost organic, though the imagery is mostly of turn-of-the-century dolls and mannequins and models acting like dolls. Several are collected in a triptych format. They have something of the quality of early 20th-century anthropological photos detailing human origins: Australopithecus afarensis, Homo erectus, Neanderthal, and the like.
The artist Sarah Moon, a leading fashion photographer in Paris, has begun each of these photos with a Polaroid. Yet these are but sketches for the finished work, which is a conglomeration of 32 sepia-toned silver prints. If there is any context to the work as a whole, they seem to point without irony to the dehumanization of women as doll-like objects. Individually, they mostly seem like tone poems that happen to include otherworldly bodies or dolls or whatever else.
For a time, there is some jostling to arrange the images in the two galleries. This act is complicated by the fact that the show, called "Still," is accompanied by a book of the same title, in which the images are presented in order. Weinstein would like to preserve that organizing system in the gallery.
"Is this where this image falls in the book?" asks Weinstein mildly, pointing at an image.
Someone answers: "No, it's at the end of the book."
"That's what I thought," Weinstein replies. And just like that, the image is moved. This goes on for some time. Walls become too crowded, and Weinstein wants some photographs moved to other walls.
Once the placement has been decided and the crew begins hanging the show, Weinstein concedes to talk a bit about the life that preceded the gallery--which is now, to put it mildly, the center of his life. Originally from Brooklyn, he became a high school social-science teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the mid-1960s, a career that ended during the divisive teachers' strike of 1968. "I loved teaching," he says, "but I had to leave."