and so it begins
Thousands of guests filled the halls and galleries of FotoFest's Vine Street headquarters on Friday for the opening night party of one of the largest photography events in the world — the FotoFest International Biennial.
Artists from across the world mingled with curators, collectors and hordes of curious Houstonians for the free public event held among prints from The Young Generation: 2007-2012, one of the Biennial's three main exhibitions exploring the dynamic development Russian photography from the mid-20th century to the present.
"This year, there seems to be more buzz," said FotoFest co-founder Fred Baldwin. "I think it has a great deal to do with the news coming from Russia and the sense of change going on there."
From a VIP tent filled with sponsors and supporters, FotoFest co-founders Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin were joined by key organizers like Russian curator Evgeny Berezner and Garage Center for Contemporary Culture director Anton Belov for a series of opening remarks that were transmitted to speakers placed throughout the party.
Houston art leaders like Christine Jelson West and Dennis Nance from the Lawndale Center and Arturo Palacios of Art Palace wove their way through the crowded galleries to take in an impressive range of works by the young artists leading Russian photography today — from Anna Skladmann's portraits of Russia's elite to the hazy mystical images of Kir Esadov.
From Moscow to Houston
"Each Biennial always has its own character," Baldwin told CultureMap during a conversation in the VIP tent. "This year, though, there seems to be more buzz. I think it has a great deal to do with the news coming from Russia and the sense of change going on there. Artists are looking to their history and into themselves right now."
Late last summer in Moscow, Baldwin and Watriss staged one of the first major international portfolio reviews in Russia, giving the country's artists a rare opportunity to show their work to experts directly involved in the art world. For all its highly-regarded photo review meetings, FotoFest guarantees its artist-participants contact with reviewers who can purchase, display or publish photography.
"We suspected the Russian sessions would be successful, but we never expected so many people," Baldwin said. "We were lucky enough to be standing on the ground as it shook . . . Wendy, what was that quote again?"
Watriss recalled a young artist who came up to her during the 2011 Moscow event. "He said 'I wanted to thank you for creating an opening without a gatekeeper.' Those words really stuck with us."
Co-founder Watriss recalled a young artist who came up to her during FotoFest's Moscow event in 2011. "He said 'I wanted to thank you for creating an opening without a gatekeeper.' Those words really stuck with us."
"For the Biennial, we're showing Russian artists who aren't even know in their own country," Baldwin noted. "We hope these FotoFest events will lead to other new developments in Russia."
Here for business
While this month's central exhibits and participating galleries generate the most public excitement throughout the city, FotoFest's portfolio review sessions — which will be held at the downtown Double Tree for the next six weeks —are the backbone of the Biennial's national and international prestige, the reason artists flock to Houston every two years.
Just outside the VIP tent, CultureMap ran into Mary Masgamen of Houston-based art duo Hillerbrand+Magsamen, who has secured a number of review session with European experts she hope might help her work get seen internationally.
"We're actually here for business this year," she laughed. "When we teach, we always tell our students to enjoy the feedback while they can. Honest, critical reviews aren't easy to find, which is why an event like this is so unique."
"The Biennial and its review sessions are not only about making connections. They about creating opportunities," said Vinod Hopson from FotoFest. "This event a serious endeavor for any artist looking ahead."
Also among the throngs of guests were noted Houston arts supporters Slavka Glaser and Veronique Prentice, Russian photo-artists like Vadim Gushchin and Andrey Chezhin, Texas architectural photographer Ken Osborne, as well as Biennial main curators Irina Chmyreva and Natalia Tarasova.