In Profile

Leslie Hammons

BY Sarah Schmerler, September 6, 2018

Being prepared is always good, but ultimately, fate deals the final hand. If you’re lucky (and, like Leslie Hammons, hard working and enthusiastic) whatever needs to happen will happen in the long run. Hammons graduated with an MA in art history from Penn State ten years ago with the vague notion that she might teach; instead, she ended up in a steep learning curve when, at the age of 23, with no previous gallery experience, she was hired by Martin Weinstein to help run his Minneapolis gallery specializing in contemporary and vintage photography. (Anthropocene, Edward Burtynsky’s newest series, makes its U.S. debut at the gallery on October 12.) Today the former Weinstein Gallery is called Weinstein Hammons, and Hammons’s transition from assistant to director to partner has been almost imperceptible for both of them. After all, the two have worked happily side by side for a decade, so who noticed? “We’re the Odd Couple,” says Hammons. “I’m 35 and Martin is 77. Our desks are six feet apart. His has a phone. Mine has a computer. [Weinstein doesn’t use one.] Over the course of working so closely, eight hours a day, I got an amazing education, but we also landed on the formula for success. We work hard and we laugh a lot. Every project has a two-thumbs-up policy. And we always have fun.”

Hammons was born in Munster, Indiana, and grew up in the small town of Princeton, Minnesota, with her father, a pharmacist; her mother, a dietician; and her younger sister. Hammons knew from the age of 12 that she wanted to be in the arts – in large part inspired by frequent trips to museums in Minneapolis. In college at the University of Minnesota Duluth, she heard the call in earnest. “In an art history survey, I saw a slide of Michaelangelo’s Pietà, shown from above. I remember I put my pencil down. ‘This is amazing,’ I thought. ‘I can’t believe humans can create something like this.’ From that day, I was all in.” She majored in art history and enrolled in graduate school at Penn State. Two years later, degree in hand, she moved back to Minneapolis, somewhat directionless, and walked into the Weinstein Gallery to answer an ad for a job opening. Weinstein, who had been in business since 1996, hired her on the spot, and the immersion in art history she had craved for so long began. “Fed Ex would come, and suddenly, here would be an Atget – this is an Atget, and I’m holding it in my hand. It was much better than school.” Today, aside from one (“indispensable”) part-time staffer, the gallery is, as it has been for a decade, a two-person operation that does several art fairs a year and puts on eight shows – solo shows as well as complex, well-crafted thematic offerings, all of which bear the mark of Hammons’s input. A 2014 show of women fashion photographers included New York artist Cass Bird, whom Hammons found on Instagram. The 2016 exhibition of Gordon Parks’s Segregation Story, which featured the searingly unapologetic and ahead-of-their-time color works by the late artist (whose estate the gallery represents), published in LIFE in 1956, was Hammons’s idea. “I knew I didn’t want to just do another ‘best of’ survey of Parks. That show drew the largest and most diverse audience we’ve had. It needed to be shown. It was just the right time.”