There are so many shiny prints at Wash Art '79 - and they look so much alike - that one can't help suspecting most of them were made by a single, wonderful machine that is oiled, antiseptic, and does not clank.
It whirs. Relentlessly and efficiently, it mass-produces Calders, Dalis, Miros, Agams, and other just-as-salable glossy works of arts.
The works come in huge editions and show all sorts of pleasing things - leaves and clowns and sailing ships, angels and colored stripes. But though their images are varied, their surfaces are not - almost all are as smooth as Formica. One sees these lithographs, photographs, phot-realist paintings, pholtolithographs, multiples and posters through a glaze of high technology.
No artist stars at Wash Art '79 - "The 4th Annual International Meeting of Fine Art Dealers," on view here through Monday at the D.C. National Armory. Its true star is the industry that supplies the planet with machine-made art.
Artistss are, by reputation, passionate and messy folk who leave fingerprints and brushstrokes on their man-made pictures. The print pulblishers, credit-card distributors, dealers and promoters assembling at the armory are, in contrast, manufacturers and merchants. They can read the market, they watch the bottom line, they learn from their mistakes.
The picture on the cover of the 260 pages catalogue shows the words WashArt carved into hard stone, suggesting quality and permanence. And it is true that this year's fair, like those that have preceeded it, is better than the last, bigger, better organized.
Elias A. Felluss, Wash Art's organzier, was wont, in past years, to appear at the evening opening red-eyed with lack of sleep, wobbly with exhaustion. This year he looked natty. "The art publishing industry is here," he said. "Look around. You'll see that they're doing very wll." There are 135 dealers, from a dozen countries, dealing at the armory. The smallest booths there cost them $1,000 for the week. That, of course, does not include travel, shipping, and insurance.
When a unique painting sells, it enters a single collection from which prints, often numbering unto the hundreds, are made. Of the dealers showing, 18 offer Dalis, 18 sell Miros. Some first-rate paintings are here, but they are much outnumbered. That demonstrates, says Felluss, "the market's populist point of view."
He adds, "The notion of an elite art fair is totally out of the question."
When Felluss started Wash Art in 1976, modeling his show on the art fairs of Europe, he had no American competition. That situation is changing. An art fair called Art Expo opened in Manhattan in March. And Felluss nexy year plans to open two other art fairs. One called Graphics West is scheduled for Los Angeles. Another Felluss show is scheduled to open in New York in the fall of 1980.
"I'm thinking of calling it 'New Art, New Art,' though that name may change," he said.