After seven years at the D.C. Armory, Washington Art Fair promoter Elias Felluss had at least one dream come true this year: a well-equipped, centrally located, new convention center that befits an annual gathering of first-rate art dealers from all over the world.

The only thing missing is the first-rate dealers.

Art 7, the International Art Exposition at the D.C. Convention Center through Monday, is the smallest, lowest-grade show since 1976 when WASHART opened as the first American art fair. About 110 dealers--down from 140 last time--have taken booths in this handsome new facility. Most range from pure commerce to pure schlock.

"Look at that. Clowns!" growled Washington dealer Rudy Agra, pointing across the vast space to the booth occupied by "Contemplative Investments," a Florida wholesaler featuring paintings of clowns leaning against garbage cans and reading the Wall Street Journal.

But art junkies, as always, will find things worth ferreting out. One happy collector left Thursday, when the show opened, with several print bargains rolled under his arm, including etchings by Stanley William Hayter, picked up for a song in one of David Adamson's two booths. Adamson was doing a brisk business in new editions as well, notably a color lithograph by Washington favorite Kevin MacDonald, and a fine hand-tinted woodcut with a Japanese look by newcomer Virginia Daley. MacDonald's limited-edition book based on drawings of Lewes, Del., is also on sale, for $15.

Special highlights at this fair are to be found in three booths devoted to turn-of-the-century lithographic posters, mostly from France, and touting everything from Maurice Chevalier to Perrier. The Club of American Collectors of Fine Arts Inc. has several wonderful images by the famed Alphonse Mucha, including his first poster depicting Sarah Bernhardt. Prices are rising, but there still are bargains to be had in this field.

Fine publishers such as Petersburg Press and Maeght--the backbone of previous Washington fairs--are noticeably absent this year, probably because of the recession and the growth of larger fairs in Chicago and New York. But Krinzinger Gallery and Galerie Nach St. Stephan, both from Austria, have loyally returned with the only new-wave painters in the show, notably Oswald Oberhuber and Siegfried Anzinger, both first-rate newcomers shown at Dokumenta last year.

The only other works from abroad worth looking at are the abstract woven wall-hangings designed by Hector Cruz from Argentina and the collages made from butterfly wings in the Central African Republic, the latter to be found in the booth of Words and Pictures, a frame shop from Arlington. Loko, a woodcut artist from Togo, also makes a strong showing in the Galerie Triangle booth.

At the heart of the show is--literally--a giant hole left behind when the Washington Art Dealers Association pulled out of the fair after a dispute with Felluss over space, which he had offered them free of charge. WADA, which includes 14 of the best dealers in Washington, could have made all the difference here, and they are sorely missed.

"We hope to be appropriately represented in the next fair, because we really do support it," says Ted Cooper, WADA president.

In their place are a few scattered sculptures by Beatriz Blanco, Donald P. Gerola and others, but they do not fill the void. Several Washington artists were offered other leftover space at modest cost (or, in some cases, at no cost) after the WADA project "went down the tubes in early May," according to Felluss, and interesting work can be seen as a result. Pat Abbott-Ryan's acrylics on paper and the delightful folklike carvings of Stefan Saal are especially strong. Lou and Di Stovall, Dana Scheurer, Brian Jones, Deborah Burk, Susana de Quadros and Ruth Cahnmann are other Washington artists worth seeking out.

The Stoneman Gallery exhibit, filled with the handsome paintings of Ming Wang and the sensitive photographs of Cynthia Brumbach also should be seen. Brumbach, by the way, has made a striking series of color photos documenting the three-year building of the Convention Center.

"I'm real confident about this show," said Felluss, adding that he believes the fair can rise again after the recession subsides. He, too, cut back this year, abandoning the big opening party that drew hundreds of art freeloaders in years past. He also has published only a slim, tabloid-style catalogue this year.

"But we've signed space for next June," says Felluss, buoyed by the enthusiasm of participants.

"The space is good and there's a future for this show," said dealer Rudy Agra. "What they need is to hire a good PR man and get better dealers in here next time."

Exposition hours are noon to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow and noon to 6 p.m. Monday. Admission is $4 for adults and there is no charge for children under 12.