Trading in for a better location, the Dallas International Art, Antiques & Jewelry Show has moved back to the city. Although Market Hall cannot compete with the Irving Convention Center in terms of the facility quality, the show organizers have transformed the hall into a magnificent space – plush light-gray colored carpet throughout, custom walls (covered in felt or paper) and ample lighting. One long-time local resident commented: in its more than half a century history, the Market Hall has never looked as splendid as it did this weekend.
The space marked out for the show accommodated more than 60 dealers from around the world. The word “international” is also reflected in the merchandise. Perhaps in an effort to match local tastes, European art and decorative art dominate the show. Collectors of 19th century American art and Americana may find comfort in the booths of Alexander Gallery and Roberto Freitas’. A portrait of a boy with his pet pigeon by Henry Benbridge has the delicate youthfulness, despite Benbridge’s tendency of delineating dark shadows with enamel-like highlights. Isaac Sheffield was a lesser known itinerant painter. However, his portrait of young Charles Mallory from Roberto Freitas has an interesting history with Mystic, Connecticut. The young man would eventually build a shipbuilding empire — Mallory shipyard.
Yet often the history of a Yankees’ north resonates little with Dallas patrons. Glittering under warm spotlight, the hall has adopted that Dallas look, and it can be about the look as much as the thing itself. The expense on Market Hall’s extreme make-over is well spent – no one would deny the feeling of walking onto red carpet. Nor would we forget the stunning first sight of aisles of suffused light, framed under the draped canopy of black ribbons at the door. But the core of a show is the objects.
There are some big names here and top quality objects, but the river doesn’t always run so deep. Some dealers like Paul Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc. offer quality objects in a variety of price points and in quantity, but many booths have limited objects. This is sometimes good for conveying a sense of scarcity and opulence, but not necessarily for shopping.
Sometimes when you ask a dealer how a show is, whether good or bad, you get an honest answer. One of the dealers expressed such dismay he wished for some paint he could watch dry. If he looked around, he may find some. The word “art” appears in the show title before “antique” and a few canvases appear relatively fresh from the easel. Contemporary art that looks traditional is a risky proposition. Some do it very well, like Colm Rowan Fine Art, a dealer offering pieces by Ken Hamilton that look like old Dutch portraits.
They are the exception.
Some present the best, and seem to do everything well.
Like last year, M.S. Rau gallery 0ccupied premium show real estate. Paintings by big names are hung with enough breathing space, like a museum exhibition. The large labels above paintings announce their importance to visitors – If you cannot read the art, at least you can’t miss the banners. With their vast inventory, they effortlessly create ambiance of opulent living-without making the booth seem sparse. My favorite was a set of Biedermeier mahogany chairs with paired swan backs and lion paw feet. The gilded and polychromed swans are carved with subtle depths and stylized dynamics as if they are about to rise up from the pond and fly away. Biedermeier, or in general, empire furniture, often emphasizes grandeur. Yet with the open back and liveliness of birds at the same time they look airy and buoyant.
One addition to this year’s show are designer showcases meant to exemplify how antiques integrate into today’s lifestyles. Had the designers taken the cues from M. S. Rau’s gallery, the showrooms would have been more coherent and visually pleasing. Earlier this year, at the Philadelphia Antiques Show, we were impressed by a set of showrooms, each with specific themes and styles. Here, however, the bright red (I’m not sure whose lifestyle can be integrated into that color) is adopted across every showroom. The color is so piercing that a snow scene painting by Arthur Clifton Goodwin (State Capitol in Boston) looks more like subdued wall paper. Nor are the proportions and styles of objects are consistent throughout the show rooms. The effect — a kaleidoscopic display of what is offered in the floor — is, to rephrase Rachel “Bunny” Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon’s words, nothing could be noticed (except the red wall).
Like many in Dallas, I am happy the show continues. This is the third edition and Market Hall is the third location for the show. Many dealers we spoke to liked the new location. However from discussion and observation, the attendance doesn’t seem to have improved markably. The Dallas metro is the fourth largest in the country and should be able to support a show like this. It may be a case of trying too hard, however and it could be held back by existing ideas of what Dallas is (it may not be as traditional as we sometimes assume). The promoter, the Palm Beach Show Group, also produced the Baltimore Antiques Show, which offers a greater array of dealers and price points. The brighter show with more of a mix of antique and contemporary, like New York’s Metro Show, may also have some appeal.
The show has a good foundation of reputable dealers that can carry it forward, and I do hope, with some tweaking, it will continue.