The Real Rug Dealers of San Francisco

Category: Fairs and conferences

by Craig Wallen

In today’s America, TV viewers as well as most Americans, probably know what a ‘reality’ show is and have probably seen or experienced one along the way. They’ve seen ‘real’ housewives that hail from many cities around the country, who are about as real as a Barbie doll. They’ve seen ‘survivors’, ‘attempting’ to exist on a deserted island. They’ve seen fledgling chefs and clothing designers compete, and ‘ordinary’ people eat live creatures under water while wearing ski masks. At the same time, most people know that overall, this is really just very well planned, serious entertainment and the only ‘real’ thing about these shows is that they generate tons of money.

Well, the rug world in America also has it’s own reality show, one that is undeniably real on every level, and that’s ARTS San Francisco, 2013, held once again at the Motel Capri, just a quick hop, skip and jump from the glorious Golden Gate Bridge.

Capri 2013 Scene
Capri 2013 Scene

For starters, there’s the completely unvarnished ‘island’ setting, an honest to goodness 1950s motel (a vanishing breed these days) sitting in the center of a posh residential neighborhood in the Marina district. Although there are other well known rug establishments close by or elsewhere in the city, for these four days, the Capri is clearly the hub, if not the one and only magnet, for truly real antique rugs and truly real rug dealers from around the world, and even the Bay area. Make no mistake, there’s absolutely nothing fake, staged or artificial about this cast of characters! It’s all real, all the time. How can anyone not love that?

And, like most reality shows, there is a competitive aspect, but only in the best sort of way. At the Capri, it is the material itself that’s competing, not the participating individuals. Across the board, the dealers in attendance spend their time cajoling, conversing, laughing, smoking and evaluating the amazing rugs, textiles and fragments on show….whether their own or those of others. It’s rugs, rugs, rugs….24-7 and it’s nothing less than fantastic.

All at once, the show provides the joy of total immersion in a niche interest, as well as the sloppy, unstructured services of an unfunded support group for rug addicts. If rugs and textiles are your addiction, you want to be here. If you’re trying to kick the habit, maybe not.

As in the past, some honestly spectacular pieces were on show, not in a sterile, ‘do not touch’, kind of way, but in a tactile, see, touch and smell, kind of way. It was up close and personal, whether you liked it or not and the rugs were clearly the stars on this stage. Attendees were treated to a wide range of top quality antique rugs and textiles, from early Ottoman embroideries (Ulrike Montigel/Galerie Arabesque, Germany) to a stunning star Kazak with a highly unusual border (Udo Langauer, Austria), to an amazingly beautiful bird Baluch bagface (Andy Lloyd/Haliden, UK), to early kilim fragments (Mark Berkovich, Israel) and a mind-bogglingly beautiful suzani (James Cohen, Austria). Those looking for top shelf Turkomans might have found a smaller, but higher quality selection than in past years with many beautiful offerings on display.

It was good to see a number of well-known, heavy hitters participating in this very unconventional affair, including Peter Pap, Hagop Manoyan, Mohammed Zawar, and Alberto Levi. Unfortunately, a local transit strike made a visit to Mohammed’s Hazara Gallery virtually impossible for most attendees, even though some wonderful pieces were on display. Other notables with a long-time presence and a range of interesting offerings included Dewitt Mallary, Wayne Baron, Patrick Pouler, Michael Phillips and Ed Koch. Some of those missing due to last minute conflicts were Seref Ozen and Nick Wright.

From the rug publishing world, Danny Shaffer of Hali was on hand and making the rounds, as well as the delightful, congenial and ever smiling Birgit Voß, of Carpet Collector Magazine.

As in the past, the ARTS organization fed the body as well as the soul, by offering a very tasty Middle Eastern buffet at the opening and by arranging a small exhibition of complete khorjins from a local collector for public view. Another fun enticement was a room featuring items from many dealers, all priced at under $500. In addition, a talk was hosted at Paul Ramsey’s Krimsa, featuring Dutch scholar, Koos de Yong, that attracted a good number of attendees.

All in all, life on this island was as real and as fun as can be, with nary a lover’s spat in sight. Until next year…..

Craig Wallen, Gallery51

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