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Meet the woman who is revamping the 2017 Texas Biennial

Texas Biennial
Photograph: Courtesy Big Medium

"I have no idea what day it is,” said Leslie Moody Castro over the phone. The artistic director and curator of the Texas Biennial, an independent survey of contemporary art in the state, was in the midst of a road trip, visiting the studios of artists who submitted their work through an open call. Castro received 1,217 submissions this year, and she had six weeks to see everyone who has made an impression on her.

If the Biennial, founded in 2005 and now produced by Big Medium and other partner organizations, hasn’t been on your radar recently, it’s likely because the exhibition took a four-year hiatus to reevaluate its mission. “We needed to rebuild its identity in a new way,” explained Castro. “I felt like it was important to give the Biennial an identity of inclusivity, to learn about the microcommunities that make up the bigger identity of what the contemporary art scene is like in the state.”

Photograph: Courtesy Big Medium

Each stop on her road trip, which she meticulously detailed on the Biennial’s blog, has been a learning experience for Castro. In cities where she has previously worked—Dallas, Houston, Austin—she tried to branch out, looking for emerging artists who produced a mature, solid body of work with a clear statement. In smaller towns—Albany, Edinburg, Galveston—she was a little more open to any and all applicants. Castro visited Giovanni Valderes in Dallas, a visual artist who focuses on the topic of gentrification in his work; the home studios of artists Philana Oliphant and James Pace in Tyler; and Ruby de la Fuente and Serena Pandos from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Art in Edinburg. She ran into kindness in most places. “I’ve been really surprised by the community and generosity of artists,” she said, detailing a potluck that the arts community in Lubbock threw for her. “I definitely don’t feel like I’m on a road trip by myself; I feel like I’m on a road trip with the entire state.”

Photograph: Courtesy Big Medium

Castro recently selected the roughly 30 artists that will showcase their work in the Biennial, which runs September 30–November 11 at 211 Alpine Road. The show will then be available for travel in 2018 to any partner organization who wants to receive it. In two years, the process will start all over again. Who knows what contemporary art in Texas will look like then?

The Texas Biennial will open to the public on September 30 from 7 to 10pm, and will focus on three elements: 1) the open call, 2) deconstructing the Texas identity and 3) exploring Texas as a border zone.

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