One typically does not expect to find a Robert Mapplethorpe and a Helen Levitt in the same exhibit. However, in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s new show, “31 Years: Gifts from Martin Weinstein,” the theme is not an era, an artist nor a motif, but the populist medium itself. On Nov. 2, the MIA opened its new photography exhibit dedicated to displaying and celebrating Martin Weinstein and his gifts to the museum. Weinstein, a native New Yorker, moved to Minneapolis in 1971 as a lawyer and newfound photography connoisseur. Like many collectors and artists who fell into the trap of photography, Weinstein talks of being unexpectedly struck, even pricked by a photograph and thereafter never letting go. He entered the art world as a buyer and spectator, searching for what he considers “killer” photographs that transcend art talk to speak to the viewer. Although he continues to remind us of his exceptional eye, Martin’s driving merit behind this exhibit is his fondness of classic “Minnesota-nice” sharing.
Weinstein’s relationship with the MIA began in 1971 when he befriended MIA’s founding photography curator, Ted Hartwell. Weinstein has sustained his close relationship with the museum since, working closely with David Little, the current director of Photography and New Media, and Alec Soth, a local legend working internationally as a photographer, both curators of this exhibit. His connection with these three men is cemented in their mutual enthusiasm of photography.
Most of the images are evocative of iconic mid-20th century America. Unsurprisingly, much of his collection consists of New York circa 1950. Photographs by legends like Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White and Edward Weston make up the compilation. Black and white images of working man’s America create quite a sense of nostalgia. Among the sea of black and white images, one of which is a personal favorite of mine, Mapplethorpe’s “Thomas,” there is the occasional punctuation of a colored image, such as Alec Soth’s photograph “Falls #26.” I lose myself in the distant clouds and the powerful vast waves in “Falls #26.” Although I have had my fair share of eyeing Soth’s photographs both online and in his books, I am reminded of the power and importance of seeing art in person. “Falls #26” is quite large, evoking the intensity of the drop in the waterfall.
Central to Weinstein’s philosophy, every museum-goer can expect to find a photograph to dazzle their eye and just maybe leave an imprint on their mind. Many of the images induce the giggles, such as the photograph by Elliot Erwitt which depicts a Jack Russell Terrier jumping high into the air next to its owner who is dressed in flat black sneakers and a long trench coat.
While moseying through “31 Years,” I cannot help but feel cheery. Each photograph exudes a sense of love for the art, collecting and sharing. Many of the photographs are accompanied by a wall text, usually Weinstein’s perspective. Together, these texts and their countering photographs assemble a narrative of a man dedicated to his friends and the appreciation of quality photography. In response to the aforementioned Erwitt photograph, Weinstein replied, “It’s a great image. It makes you warm and fuzzy and smile and be happy. What more should a photograph do?”
31 Years: Gifts from Martin Weinstein is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts until August 31, 2014.