"You'll see plenty of shouting and running and pointing tonight," Vinod Hopson of FotoFest said just before the organization's International Fine Print Auction. "Trust me, it gets pretty lively."
In a dining hall inside the downtown DoubleTree hotel, auctioneer Madeline Brophy of Dallas-based Heritage Auctions stepped up to the podium and proved Hopson 100 percent correct.
Works by artists featured in the FotoFest Bienniel's current exhibits on contemporary Russian photography started the evening, followed by nearly 80 prints from emerging photographers across the globe.
Auction volunteers, decked in white gloves, carried the works onto the floor as additional "runners" flagged down bidders with shouts and wild hand gestures.
One of the highlights of each Biennial, the print auction not only generates a considerable amount of facetime for the artists, but also serves on the primary fundraising tool for FotoFest's extensive community outreach programs.
"I seriously had to leave the room when my piece came up," said American artist Brad Temkin after his print sold for more than $1000 above the asking price. "It was so nerve-racking, I had to get out of here."
"Remember to bid heartily this evening," laughed FotoFest co-founder Wendy Watriss in a speech at the start of the auction.
"Know that all of this work is hand-picked. These artists are personally asked by us to give to the auction. We ask them for specific pieces they themselves feel are important to their work, to guarantee a high quality for our bidders."
CultureMap ran into noted Houston collector Judy Nyquist, who pointed to the works that interested her in the auction catalog. A burst of excitement at the other side of the table suddenly put the conversation on hold, as American artist Brad Temkin ran from the room as his work went up for auction.
"I seriously had to leave the room when my piece came up," he said upon his return. "It was so nerve-racking, I had to get out of here." To the artist's surprise, his untitled landscape ended up in the hands of one of his tablemates at the auction.
"There were four or five people bidding on Brad's picture, but I got it in the end," smiled winner John O. Hastings, Jr., who was intrigued by the abandoned gas pumps in the foreground of Temkin's piece. An energy executive himself, Hastings said he liked the photo's quiet commentary on the limits of burning fossil fuels.
The signed print sold for more than $1,000 above its suggested price in the catalog.
"This is easily our department's biggest fundraising event, other than corporate and non-profit donations," said Kristin Skarbovig, program director for FotoFest's Learning Through Photography education initiative, which is funded in large part by the auction's ticket sales and table sponsorships.
"The print auction is definitely one of our most popular events too . . . Look at the fun people are having."