"Do you have a favorite color?" asked Jim English, who had enough paintings in his booth at the Washington International Art Fair to match whatever that might be. Swirls of color -- one after another, frame to frame. "As you can tell, mine is a new art form," he said. "I'm trying to capture the new energies out in the world that people haven't seen."
Outside the booth at the fair, which opened yesterday, was his temporary shingle: "English Gallery, Alcoa, Tennessee." Inside the booth with Jim English, in navy blazer and print shirt, was his daughter Debbie. Both had expectant smiles and were perfectly coiffed.
"What's this?" asked two prospective customers peering into the booth last night.
"Galactic energies," explained the artist's daughter.
Harry Lunn, the venerable Washington art dealer, isn't here this year. He decided not to exhibit two weeks ago.
"Ask him why," said Elias Felluss, standing in the middle of the D.C. Armory, which is one big swirl of booths full of art from 130 galleries.
Chris Middendorf, young successful Washington art dealer, isn't here either. "I don't know what his problems are," said Felluss, shrugging. "We've got more people in this space to see art," he said, raising his voice above the noise level, "than they get in their galleries in two years."
For the sixth year, Felluss has brought his Merchandise Mart of the art world to the D.C. Armory, where the art fair runs today through Monday. One could witness the selling of a Miro or a Hundertwasser or a Jim English from Alcoa, Tenn. The D.C. Commission on the Arts has a booth of works by local artists. The Arctic Showcase from Elmsford, N.Y., has bear sculptures.
"I don't think the quality of what is shown here is very good," said Francois Paul-Cavallier, who was exhibiting works from his gallery, Editions de La Tortue, in Paris. But he gives credit to Felluss for organizing the fair. "The best fair -- Fiac -- in the world is in Paris. It's like going through a museum. You can't afford anything on the walls." Gloria Weissberg, whose photographs are hanging on Paul-Cavallier's walls, chuckled. "It's very prestigious, it's very important," continued Paul-Cavallier, who is on the board of that fair.
"This is not a salon," said Felluss, taking the criticism that the art displayed is not necessarily ground-breaking in stride. "It never was and it was never promoted that way. It's a place for dealers to come and see art. I'm not here to give art history lessons."
"I do all the fairs," said Jonathan Poole of London, tan and blond and sitting at his desk in his booth. "Switzerland, Basel, New York, Chicago, Stockholm, Toronto, Bath." On his desk was a $2,975 bronze sculpture by one of the artists he represents. Behind him were paintings of strangely distorted women's bodies; he was pushing those. "It's dealers I'm interested in. It's a good fair if you make four to five exhibitions. I met a dealer from Atlanta in Switzerland last year and now I have an exhibition in Atlanta next week."
Meanwhile, the sell continued. "Let us know if we can help anybody," said Peter Lane, hands behind his back as he strolled through the large Circle Fine Art Corp. booth. The corporation came with a staff of four and brought lots of upholstered Parsons chairs so customers could sit and think about what they wanted to buy. "We throw the chairs in if the price is right," said Lane.