Arts / Galleries

FotoFest Biennial Brings International Power to Houston — 10 Must-See Works to Catch at the Auction

A One of a Kind Opportunity to View World Renowned Works and a True Treasure Hunt For Serious Collectors

BY Haley Berkman Karren // 03.07.24

The FotoFest Biennial, an internationally renowned global convergence, celebrates photography and lens-based art every two years across Houston. Every year it returns is a treat and 2024 is one of those special years.

This time, FotoFest Biennial’s central exhibition and theme is “Critical Geography,” which reexamines traditional Western and historical understandings of geography while investigating shifting and emergent spatial realms. The exhibition opens this Saturday, March 9 and will be on view through April 21. It highlights artists constructing new narratives about space and community.

One of the most anticipated events of the Biennial is the live auction and gala, which will take place on Thursday, March 21. Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee, Megan Olivia Ebel and Tara Tomicic, an exciting trio of women involved in the arts, are co-chairing this year’s auction. The event honors Silver Street Studios, which has been the FotoFest headquarters for the past decade and will serve as the location for the majority of the biennial exhibitions and events.

FotoFest director Steven Evans notes that the goal unifying the exhibitions, the celebrated Meeting Portfolio Review and the auction at Silver Street Studios is to have a “center of gravity” for the biennial.

According to auction co-chair Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee, the gala will be “more elevated than in previous years,” partially due to the shift in locations. Additionally, Wolfgang Puck Catering will provide upscale food for the event.

Folmsbee shares that the co-chairs and FotoFest are “taking the theme of sustainability to heart, particularly with the overall focus on Critical Geography, and prioritizing a sense of place, our environment and our planet.”

Charismatic auctioneer Jacqueline Towers-Perkins, previously of Sotheby’s and Bonhams, joins the FotoFest auction for the first time to lead what is sure to be animated bidding.

The 14th FotoFest Biennial Fine Print Auction, a can’t-miss for collectors, features 50 tightly curated works of art that have been selected by Evans from internationally acclaimed artists who are pushing the boundaries of photography. Many artists have been affiliated with FotoFest for many years, while other artists are being introduced to the FotoFest audience for the first time. Some of the artists with pieces in the auction will be displayed in the main “Critical Geography” exhibition.

The Biennial Fine Print Auction is the organization’s principal fundraiser. Auction revenues from print sales and table sponsorships go directly to support FotoFest’s exhibitions, professional development programs, and the Literacy Through Photography learning program, which serves thousands of Houston area students every school year.

As an art advisor, I research and place artwork while also educating art seeking clients. Here are my Top 10 Picks From the FotoFest Auction:

Mark Menjivar's <em>Honest as a Mirror, Honest as the Sun</em>, 2024 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Mark Menjivar’s Honest as a Mirror, Honest as the Sun, 2024 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Mark Menjivar, Honest as a Mirror, Honest as the Sun, 2024, Archival inkjet print with laser cut acrylic, 18 x 12 inches, 2024

San Antonio-based artist Mark Menjivar focuses on participatory projects that are deeply rooted in community and social action.

For the FotoFest Biennial, he collaborated with students at the Jack Yates High School to create Looking Up (Voices from Jack Yates High School), combining student photographs of the sky and manifestos that describe the students’ ideal school experience. A highly visible installation of Looking Up is on view at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport through 2024, while corresponding installations will be displayed at the FotoFest Biennial and Jack Yates High School.

The artwork in the auction is from this exciting series and features the text “honest as a mirror, honest as the sun” over an ethereal image of clouds in a blue sky.

C. Rose Smith's <em>Untitled no. 73, Redcliffe Plantation, Beech Island, SC</em>, 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
C. Rose Smith’s Untitled no. 73, Redcliffe Plantation, Beech Island, SC, 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

C. Rose Smith, Untitled no. 73, Redcliffe Plantation, Beech Island, SC, 2023, Archival Inkjet Print, 28 x 20 inches, From the series Talking Back to Power

In this series, Talking Back to Power, the artist photographs herself at sites of racial and patriarchal power in the Southern United States. In this striking image, she stoically gazes at the camera while wearing all white at the Redcliffe Plantation in South Carolina.

The artist was included in the “Ten by Ten” exhibition for the 2022 FotoFest Biennial. It is highly unusual for an artist to be selected for exhibition in consecutive biennials, but her work fit so beautifully into the theme of “Critical Geography” that FotoFest director Steven Evans co-commissioned her to make an installation for this biennial with Autograph ABP in London.

Ethel Lilienfeld's <em>@seven,</em> 2022 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Ethel Lilienfeld’s @seven, 2022 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Ethel Lilienfeld, @seven, 2022, From the series The Acroliths, Archival inkjet print, 45 x 32 inches

French artist Ethel Lilienfeld explores how technology impacts our daily lives. The title of this series is Les Acrolithes, or the acroyliths, which refers to composite Greek sculptures with the head and extremities carved in marble or stone and the torso carved in wood.

In this series, Lilienfeld explores the hybrid nature of portraiture with the use of artificial intelligence typically used to beautify images, but in this case produces strange, post-human portraits. Lilienfeld’s site-specific installation, which explores self image, particularly in terms of social media, will be on view in the “Critical Geography” exhibition.

Blue, Yellow Indian sea anemone, soft coral red sea, tidal tondos series- janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee – center
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee’s Blue, Yellow Indian sea anemone, soft coral red sea, 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee, Blue, Yellow Indian sea anemone, soft coral red sea, 2023, Lenticular, ballpoint ink, underwater photography, and painting, 25.5 inches diameter

Auction co-chair and FotoFest board member Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee is an accomplished artist who focuses on marine conservation. Born in Mumbai and based in Houston, Folmsbee creates acclaimed public art.

In this tondo, Folmsbee combines her underwater photography and her drawing of a coral reef, so that the images are combined to create movement, echoing movement underwater.

Roman Franc's <em>Hunters and Lamborghinis</em>, 2021 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Roman Franc’s Hunters and Lamborghinis, 2021 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Roman Franc, Hunters and Lamborghinis, 2021, Archival inkjet print, 24 x 19 inches

Czech photographer Roman Franc focuses on non-traditional portraiture and staged photographs. In this playful photo, he depicts a luxury Lamborghini surrounded by a group of hunters, typical of small villages in the Czech countryside, showing two disparate worlds that typically do not converge.

Franc’s work was included in the 2019 FotoFest exhibition “Velvet Generation,” which documented life in the Czech Republic. He has been involved in many previous biennials and will return for the upcoming FotoFest Biennial. Another print of this image entered the collection of the Library of Congress last year.

Yao Lu's <em>New Landscape</em>, 2007 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Yao Lu’s New Landscape, 2007 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Yao Lu, New Landscape, 2007, Archival Inkjet Print, 4” x 48 inches

Inspired by traditional Chinese paintings, Yao Lu constructs landscapes that at first appear to be beautiful, but with closer viewing turn out to be mounds of garbage covered in netting, which are ubiquitous in China. He digitally assembles the images using photographs he took in order to show how the increasing urbanization affects the environment.

Renate Aller's <em>Commensalism #1,</em> 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Renate Aller’s Commensalism #1, 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)


Renate Aller's <em>Commensalism #2,</em> 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Renate Aller’s Commensalism #2, 2023 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Renate Aller, Commensalism #1, Commensalism #2, 2023, Archival Pigment Prints, 16 x 24 inches

Acclaimed photographer Renate Aller creates this fascinating diptych that juxtaposes a rocky landscape with an image of the human body, creating an intimate work of art. The viewer can at once see the landscape of the body and the body in the landscape, while engaging in issues presented in “Critical Geography,” the overarching theme of the Biennial.

Max Kellenberger's<em> Untitled #8,</em> 2018 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Max Kellenberger’s Untitled #8, 2018 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Max Kellenberger, Untitled #8, 2018, From the series Gravity, toned silver gelatin print, 16 x 18 inches

Max Kellenberger is a self-trained photographer who employs a variety of traditional and experimental techniques. This strange, surreal image depicts a toy horse upside down in an archway, defying gravity. The photograph is beautifully warmed toned silver gelatin print.

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte's <em>Tierra y Libertad</em>, 2019 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Mónica Alcázar-Duarte’s Tierra y Libertad, 2019 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte, Tierra y Libertad, 2019, Archival inkjet print with hand drawing in metallic ink, mounted on Dibond with coating, 23.4 x 33.1 inches

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte is a Mexican-British multi-disciplinary artist whose work acknowledges her indigenous heritage while exploring contemporary issues. In this work, the artist examines how search engine algorithms reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate bias and discrimination.

In this striking piece, the face of the figure is obscured. The artist has hand drawn words and phrases that refer to the migrant experience on top of the image.

Jamey Stillings' <em>Aerial landscape, Atacama Region, Chile, #24729, 20 July 2017</em>, 2017 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)
Jamey Stillings’ Aerial landscape, Atacama Region, Chile, #24729, 20 July 2017, 2017 (Courtesy the artist and FotoFest)

Jamey Stillings, Aerial landscape, Atacama Region, Chile, #24729, 20 July 2017s

Photographer Jamey Stillings focuses on sustainability and renewable energy through aerial photography. This depiction of the Chilean Atacama landscape is absolutely stunning. Stillings’ work was included in the 2018 FotoFest exhibition “CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES: Looking at the Future of the Planet.”

The FotoFest Fine Print Auction and Gala will take place on Thursday, March 21 at Silver Street Studios. For more information and to purchase tickets and tables, go here. The artwork in the auction will be on view from this Sunday, March 10 through March 19. There will be a special walkthrough with FotoFest director Steven Evans at noon on March 14.

Author’s note: Haley Berkman Karren is an art advisor, appraiser, independent curator and writer who has reviewed at FotoFest’s The International Meeting Place Portfolio Reviews since 2016. She is also the founder and director of Karren Art Advisory, specializing in modern and contemporary art, photography and digital art.

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