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decorative arts diary
by Meredith Mendelsohn  

Chinese 18th-century
Qing dynasty
agate snuff bottle
at Asiantiques

Gouache on paper
Aubusson design
for a tapestry
ca. 1850
at Lhomond & Assoc.

One of 12 silver
art deco knife rests
at Fred Heintz

1930's glass bar
cabinet by Saubes
at Vallois

French rosewood commode
at Maurice Segoura

18th-century Delft faïence square plate

Nude with a guitar
at Galerie Hopkins-Thomas

Bowl with Kufic script
at the Metropolitan

Qur'an stand
probably Iran
from "The Nature of Islamic Ornament"

Haci Nazif Bey
19th-20th century
from the Sabanci Collection

A mola from "The Art of Being Kuna"

Robin Schwalb
Lost in Translation
at the Museum of American Folk Art

Matchmaker's basket
from Taiwan
at Taipei Gallery
   Wendy's New York Armory Antiques Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory at Park Avenue and 67th Street is the first antiques fair of the fall season. The show's dates were moved forward by a day -- after the disastrous fire that gutted the nearby Central Synagogue, the Armory space is being used for Rosh Hashanah worship on Sept. 20 -- and the Wendy's show now runs Sept. 15-19. Expect to find everything from Tiffany jewelry and French faïence porcelain to 18th-century continental furniture.

Meg Wendy was on the scene, working the phones. Inside the show the 100 exhibitors were in good spirits, despite the sweltering heat. Susie Lorie of Asiantiques in Winter Park, Fla., was particularly pleased at the timing of the show -- Asia week at the auction houses has drawn lots of Asian dealers to town. An exquisite collection of 18th-century Chinese snuff bottles and Peking palace workshop glass is on view in her stall. Particularly stunning is a $5,500 agate snuff bottle in which the natural patterns of the rock look like a fisherman talking to birds.

Among the five packed aisles, some 19th-century Aubusson tapestry cartoons at the stall of Parisian dealer Lhomond & Associates caught my eye. A large, blue, hand-painted gouache-on-paper design, ca. 1850, was priced at $14,000 -- and the gallery thinks it will sell.

A box set of 12 sleek, French Art Deco silver knife rests was a better bargain -- Sotheby's London estimated a similar set at £1800-£2200, but Fred Heintz, a Bronxville, N.Y., dealer was selling his for only $1,400 because he didn't have their original box. A few SOLD tickets peppered the stalls -- not bad for the second day of the fair.

Once you're done in the city, jump on the Concorde to visit the Paris Biennale, otherwise known as the XIXe Biennale Internationale des Antiquaires at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris, which opens Friday, Sept. 18. It's certainly the fanciest art fair on earth! Some 120 dealers, mostly from Paris (not too many from New York -- it's too expensive) present their best wares. The selection is heavy on 17th- and 18th-century furniture and art objects, but it includes everything from a 7th-century BC Egyptian funerary stele at Blondeel-Deroyan, to an 1930s art deco glass bar cabinet at Vallois that once belonged to Karl Lagerfeld.

Jean-Gabriel Peyre has a brilliant blue Delft faïence square plate decorated with a Chinese scene. Those who are interested in modern art will want to take a look at the reported $5.5 million Balthus on display at Galerie Hopkins-Thomas.

Exhibitors include Didier Aaron, Galerie Berès, Pierre Berès Conlaghi, Gisèle Croës, Michael Groedhuis, Richard Green, Galerie d'Orsay, Pelham Galleries, Maurice Segoura and Axel Vervoordt, among others. The Biennale runs until Oct. 4, 1998.

Back in Manhattan, the Decorative Art and Textiles Show opens Sept. 25-27 at the Gramercy Park Armory on Lexington and 26th Street. For the first time, over 100 antique and textile dealers have teamed up as a group to show their tapestries, wall hangings, vintage linens, painted floor cloths and more. Obviously, the hope is to encourage new trends in collecting in the wake of vintage textile mania. Persian and Saruk rugs will also be on view if lace, shawls and needlepoint don't inspire you.

Of all the Islamic arts, Persian and Caucasian rugs undeniably get the most exposure. Currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum, however, are two exhibitions that pay homage to the arabesque in its many manifestations. Tiny in size yet big on delights is The Nature of Islamic Ornament, Part II: Vegetal Patterns -- a selection of 25 objects from the Met's holdings. Items such as a 9th-century wooden door fragment, a 6th-7th-century gold dish and a 16th-century Ottoman brocade were selected by curator Daniel Walker to demonstrate complex Islamic interpretations of blossoms, palmettes, vine scrolls and split leaves. The show is on view until Jan. 10, 1999.

Also at the Met is a much larger Islamic exhibition, Letters in Gold: Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Collection, Istanbul. Most of the 70 works on view are manuscripts, books or scrolls, but the show also features exquisitely carved stone, wood and metal pens. The beautifully burnished pages are bordered with gold and lapis lazuli, and the compact energy of the delicate Arabic script is quite unlike that which developed in the illuminated manuscripts of Western Europe. The rounded, bouncy letters become expressive abstractions in their own right, redolent of the rapture of a whirling dervish. On view through Dec. 13, 1998.

Compare the Islamic world's sense of pattern with one from Central America in The Art of Being Kuna, an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City of approximately 300 works made by the Kuna peoples of Panama. The focus of the show is the mola, a brightly colored, appliqué blouse made by the Kuna women since the 1800s. Over the years, Kuna women have begun using images from modern life (like the Ninja Turtles and basketball, a favorite pastime), but have also had a revival of "traditional" styles. The mola itself is a highly original fashion statement, with enormously puffy sleeves and a very tight bodice. The exhibition continues through Mar. 21, 1999.

At the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, time is running out to see a very interesting survey of contemporary quilts, Edge to Edge: Selections from Studio Art Quilts, until Sept. 27. Though all the works are on fabric, they don't have the more traditional grids of squares or kaleidoscope of patches. Eighteen artists such as Judith Trager, Robin Schwalb and Emily Parson have used photo-silk-screen, discharged-dye, appliqué, paint, and other mixed media to create 20 textiles that are more hip than folksy.

At the Taipei Gallery in the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City is the exhibition Rituals of Marriage in Taiwan. The Chinese wedding ceremony -- not unlike the American one! -- attests to the importance of family and progeny. On view are ceremonial objects that form the backbone of those rituals. Examples of ritual wine sets, wedding gifts, bridal carriages, wedding dresses and lucky cake forms, among other things, makes for a marriage that just can't fail.

Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, but she has taken a hand as First Lady in developing public awareness and appreciation of the White House Collection of American Crafts. Now available is an on-line virtual tour of the collection. Click on a link on the to National Museum of American Art and get a glimpse of the 72 fiber, wood, metal, glass and ceramic objects collected over the years.

Finally, the revival of "cigar chic" had prompted a new interest in related collectibles. If such is your inclination, an exhibition of "Tobacco Art: Cigar and Cigarette Labels from Cuba and Florida." at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans might be more up your alley. The exhibition of 72 objects will be on view until Nov. 29, 1998.

MEREDITH MENDELSOHN is associate editor of ArtNet Magazine.