Sunday, December 17, 2006

Laura's RCA Secret Experiences

Here are Laura's experiences of RCA Secret, originally posted to the yahoo group:

I've been going to the RCA Secret postcard sale for 4 years now and I do look forward to my yearly viewing, list-making (and week of refining that list), long
wait in the cold, and the slow crossing off of all my favourites in
the queue downstairs - what I come home with is often dictated by what
is left by the time I get to the tills, which is all part of the fun!

The best known artist I've acquired is Andrew Stahl, completely by
chance. It was my first year and I cut my list down to about 20, not
knowing what I was in for. By the time I'd reached the tills nothing
was left, and I would have been disappointed if I'd gone home empty-
handed after all the queuing, so I picked an available number at
random (judging by the look on the guy's face I don't think they get
that often!) - very risky as there were quite a few biro-scribbles and
the like that year if I remember correctly. I've managed to get
postcards quite high on my list since, but I don't seem to go for well
known artists.

I know next to nothing about art but I've noticed that year on year
some artists turn up in my favourites list, without me making any
effort to look out for their work. I seem to like Joy Fleischmann's
nudes although I've yet to buy one, but it was satisfying to look her
up on the internet and put a face to the name - I remember seeing a
documentary about her husband's work in which she was interviewed by
Tracy Emin.

I only buy one piece every year, although one year a friend came along but decided she wasn't keen on her choice after all so gave it to me. The artists are as

Andrew Stahl - a Google image search will give you plenty of
examples of his work. Although a chance buy, I really like the card
and some of his work so the lucky dip worked that year.

Jane Skinner - desperately wanted one of her Sindy doll pictures the
year before but they were all gone. Didn't get a chance to view the
cards but a friend (my regular partner in crime in the queue)
recognised one that I may like and took note of the number. I
queued just for that card and got it. More of her work can be seen

Jo Longhurst - a gift from a friend who was new to the sale.
Wouldn't have picked this myself but I like the colours and I quite
like Jo Longhurst's whippets. She's a student at the RCA doing a
PhD in photography, and easily found using Google.

Craig Moore - has entered cards since at least 2001. His work
always appears in my friend's list, sometimes on mine. I'll put
some other cards we liked (but didn't buy) in the photos section as
I can't find any of his work online.

Maureen Lacey (pictured) - my favourite this year. The only thing I found of
hers was from a very small exhibition, which can be seen here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

RCA Secret 2006 by Jonathan

Here's a piece written by Jonathan for the RCA Secret yahoo group.

I've never owned any art before. Of course, I've bought posters and
pictures before, but these are things which are relatively
inexpensive, mass produced, get put up on the wall for a while, and
then thrown away.

So, I know a lot of people say that everything is art, but that
seems too much like an evasive answer to me; I view art more as
something that is unique, where someone has put some effort into
developing a talent, and then spent time using that skill to produce
a one of a kind piece of work. This, of course, brings the worry
that if someone like Steve Wynn can stick his elbow through a
Picasso, it'd be terrible to damage something unique, and perhaps
partly accounts for why I've never considered buying art before.

I've never had artistic talent myself, and I was always a bit
jealous when I'd sit next to people at school who could draw or
paint something that looked almost exactly like a photograph. My
lack of talent, lack of understanding of all the strange terminology
(line, balance, texture, proportion, perspective, etc.) that art
teachers talked about lead me to drop art as a subject when I was
about 13 or 14, and since then people have always been very
surprised when I was honest and told them I knew nothing about art.
Of course since that time, I learned to bluff my way, by telling
them that I really liked the works of C.M. Coolidge. Most people had
no clue about him, assumed I knew a lot and never questioned it
further, while those that did know laughed at my joke, until his
paintings started selling for quite large amounts of money.

Anyway, I saw the RCA Secret exhibition mentioned in one of the
newspapers, a few weeks back and decided that as I had a little free
time, I could use the opportunity to acquire some art for myself,
improve my knowledge of the subject, and have a little fun in the
process. Then, a little searching around on the internet bought me
to this group, and also plenty of material to look at on the web.

I asked my friends and colleagues about the artists that had
previously exhibited, and predictably everyone had heard Damien
Hirst and Tracey Emin, while a few people knew of David Hockney and
one person had seen Mario Testino's work. Even my sister, who has
studied art, looked at the RCA website and said she didn't recognise
any of the artists. Clearly, I had set myself quite a challenge.

I'd been to see the exhibition, and written about my learning
experiences in so
nearer the time of the sale I was feeling more confident, and more

I'd found out that there was already a small queue outside by Friday
afternoon, and wondered how big it would be by the following day.
Surely there can't be that many art fans? And there's always the
possibility that I'd win one of the raffled places. Work colleagues
suggested it was more likely that I'd get a cold than get a work of
art by a famous artist. I pointed out that I had no intention of
standing in the rain all night, but they still thought porcine
aviation was more likely.

The RCA either has bad taste in the people it chooses to get the
first fifty places, or my beginners luck wasn't working, because I
received no phone call inviting me to choose first. So, resigned to
waiting in the queue, I cancel friend's invitations to go out on
Friday. They suggest that I might need my brain testing, but all the
same, we reschedule for a later date and I get an early night in a
nice warm bed.

Come the day of the sale, I get out of bed, get ready and try to
catch the first train to Central London. London Transport presumably
thinking that nobody in their right mind would catch a train at half
past five in the morning does the invisible train trick (i.e. the
display board counts down the arrival of an invisible train, and
then counts down the arrival of another train) Luckily the second
train was more tangible, and I'm transported into central London
without any more of LT's misdirection.

Arriving at the RCA about six thirty, I do a double take, and have
to check to make sure that I haven't got off at the wrong station or
somehow ended up at Vauxhall Bridge. I'm confronted with what I can
only describe as a Transit camp or a Shanty Town! And I'm struck by
the thought "How can people that care so much about art care so
little about their personal appearance?"

I wander past art refugees, and the queue changes from bedraggled
figures in waterproofs and sleeping bags, to rather more ordinary
looking people wrapped in warm clothes. I wonder if anyone from the
Yahoo group is there, perhaps I should stop and find out, so I can
wish them a good morning. I decide I should find out where the end
of the queue is, and follow it round the corner. Some people have
set up a table, and seem to be sitting down to breakfast. I walk
past them to find the end of the queue, turn another corner and walk
further down the street. I start to think if I turn another corner,
I'll arrive back at the entrance to the RCA, and maybe I've been
walking the wrong way... But eventually I find the end of the queue.
I guess that anyone who didn't get a raffle winning phone call
jumped on a train, and headed straight into London for the night.

I consider walking straight past and going home, the queue is that
long! But I figure I've gone to all the effort of learning a bit
about art, coming to London, and making a list, so I check with a
professorial looking gentleman at the end of the queue. "Is this the
end of the queue?", "Mmm" he answers.

I join the queue, and seconds afterwards, another gentleman who
looks a little bit like a business consultant I hired a couple of
years back joins the queue. Figuring we're all in for an incredibly
long wait, I try to engage either of them in conversation; though
both are about 20 years my senior:
"Have you been here long", I ask the professor
"Mmm" he answers
"Have you been here before?"
"Mmm" The professor answers
I look at Consultant guy, expecting an answer, but nothing comes
"Do any of the cards stand out to you", I continue
"Mmm" The professor says
Again, I look at Consultant guy, but he remains mute
We continue a similar routine, until I get bored with it.

Now, I've queued over an hour for one of LT's appallingly infrequent
buses before, and I've queued for about two and a half hours at JFK,
shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, whilst they X-
rayed everyone's bags several times, and generally made life very
difficult for travellers. But nothing prepared me for the queue
outside the RCA. Yes, I was expecting a big queue and had come
prepared with warm clothes, snacks, drinks and an umbrella, but this
was ridiculous - and people were still joining the queue behind me.

I realised I was in for a long boring wait, with no conversation,
and I regretted not stopping to buy a newspaper from the stand that
was opening for business, as I came out of Kensington Station.
Evidently Perry and the Yahoo group had deceived me into believing
that art lovers were a sociable bunch that enjoyed talking about art.

I glance down the queue, behind me is Consultant guy, and behind him
is a fierce looking woman who spends most of her time scribbling
notes, furiously, and behind her is a man with the biggest set of
headphones I've ever seen in my life; he must have been here before,
and has worked out the correct strategy. Ahead of The professor, is
a loved-up couple who seem oblivious to anything else, and ahead of
them is a small group of Japanese people. I try to converse with the
Japanese group, but their English isn't very good, and by now from
the looks I'm getting from The professor, I suspect he thinks I'm
trying to jump ahead in the queue.

Time passes, and I start to feel solidarity with the Russians; I've
seen footage of people queuing in big queues, in the former USSR,
and I can imagine how they feel, though I do recall a Russian I once
knew telling me that one could ask the person next to you in the
queue to hold your position, while you went off and did your
shopping, and then rejoin the queue a few hours later. That seems
like a much better way of way of doing things.

Soon, Radio London turns up, they must want to interview a few of
the first fifty, and shortly before 7am the queue moves forward and
stops. I ponder if there will be anything left by the time I get to
the sale. I wonder if people from the first fifty had joined my
queue by mistake, and were leaving now. I start calculating that the
people in the first fifty will most likely represent an average
cross section of the population, and therefore not have any in depth
knowledge of art, and I console myself with the idea that they'll
probably just pick cute looking cards, rather than ones by someone

Time passes, and shortly after 7pm the queue moves again, suddenly I
can see the edge of the Royal Albert Hall... Time passes, and it
starts raining. Slowly, slowly, we trudge past discarded squalor
from people earlier in the queue, empty bottles, plastic bags, part
eaten food and even miniature drinks bottles. The pigeons can't
believe their luck, and for a spilt second, I consider that if
people at the head of the queue can't keep the pavement clean, then
perhaps the Sudanese or Zimbabwean government way of dealing with
big crowds is a good one.

Three hours later, we pass camping gear and associated equipment on
the pavement, we're nearly at the entrance to the RCA, and
eventually The Security Guard ushers us in, in a small group. But
wait, last time I was here, we went left, now were being told to go
right... And join yet another queue.

The shock of this revelation gets Consultant guy talking. He tells
me he won't come here again. I finally manage to strike up a
conversation with him, and find out he's just a slightly shy guy,
with an about average knowledge of art. We wind our way through the
basement of the RCA, and talk about some of the more unusual
postcards we'd seen. Eventually, we arrive at the sale room, and
we're in the home straight. A monitor at the far end of the room is
showing what has gone, and what's still left. My list isn't in
numerical order, there's a number of columns blocking the view
whilst the screen changes a little bit too often, making it
difficult to cross off more than a couple of numbers before I get to
the checkout.

Now the fun begins, and finally I get my chance to buy something, as
I'm called over to the cashier. I call out numbers, the cashier
answers, Gone, Gone, Gone, and The Everly Brothers plays in my head.

Eventually, we get to what I suspect might be a Frank Auerbach, and
I'm told that's available, I'm taken aback, and say "I'll have it",
then I start wondering "If it's still there, maybe I'm wrong." I'm
very low down my list of cards that I think are, or might be by
famous people but I decide to push my luck, and keep calling out the
numbers. Soon, another one is available; I look at my description by
the card number, and picture it in my mind. Why did I put that one
in the list? I hesitate, and say something to the effect or "Erm,
I'm not sure about that one, can we leave it aside for the moment?"
The cashier looks visibly annoyed, and I can't really blame her,
I've been calling out duff numbers for ages, and suddenly I'm
getting fussy.

I switch categories, and call out more numbers, all are gone till we
get right to the bottom, and finally another one is available. I
pick another category, we get half way down and I find another
available card. I'm told that's four, but the cashier agrees to
remove the card I wasn't sure about, and I find another card at the
end of another category.

I'm very excited to have found four, after waiting for so long, but
then the RCA go and spoil it all by telling me there's an extra
charge for paying by credit card. I'm sure that wasn't mentioned in
the publicity, I wonder if it's even legal to charge extra for a
credit card, and whilst I know it's only a few pounds, I still feel
like I've been cheated. Now, I've gone to so much effort to buy the
cards, and I don't have a lot of cash on me, so I'm forced to pay
the extra charge. I'm rather disappointed, but I try to stay

I go to collect my cards, and whilst I wait, someone tells me that
the Hockney's have all gone, I ask which ones they were, check my
list and I'm glad to report that I was right about them, even though
I wasn't able to buy them.

By now, the assistant has gathered my cards together, wraps them up
for me and gives me them in a big DO NOT BEND envelope. I thank him
and walk out... Suddenly, everything is over, and I'm not sure what
to do with myself. It's still morning, but I feel like I've been up
all day, my feet hurt from all the standing about, and I can't
believe there's still a massive queue of people waiting to get in.

I decide the best thing to do is to go home and rest, but I still
don't know who made the cards and it's starting to rain again. I
don't want to damage the cards in the rain, but I want to know who
made them. Now, all the proper restaurants are shut at this hour of
the morning, and the only place open before the station is
McDonalds, I steady myself before going inside and ordering the only
edible thing on the menu, a milkshake.

I clear space in the virtually deserted eating area, and making sure
I keep the cards in the tissue papers (just in case), I find that I
have a Christina Niederberger, a Simon Elvins, a Miyuki S.
Harrington, and finally the card I thought might be a Frank Auerbach
turns out to be by Jenny Mellings. I haven't heard of any of these
people, and resolve to look them up when I get home. I had hoped
that I'd get at least one by someone I'd heard of, so I pack them
safely away, and I start re-examining my list. I'd called out nearly
all the cards on the list, and there were only a couple that I
thought I could have tried, so all in all, I probably made the best
choice I could at the time, but it did all seem like an awful lot of
effort to go to.

I head home, and by now, a couple of friends are ringing my
cellphone to find out what I've been up to, I tell them I think all
the cards I bought were by students. One says wait and see if they
get famous, and the other says I'll have something to leave my kids
(seeing as I don't have kids, that seems rather surreal, but I let
it pass) though both comments seem too much like cognitive
dissonance for my liking.

I look up the artists on the internet, none show up in the Grove art
database, but I did find that Jenny Mellings is a lecturer at
University of Plymouth, Christina Niederberger seems to have a
surprising number of degrees, and is studying for a PhD in Fine Art,
whilst Simon Elvins is exploring ways of linking sound to print (I
don't know much about Synesthesia, so I think that one will be
difficult for me to get my head round) Finally, Miyuki S. Harrington
seems to be completely anonymous, and therefore I can only guess
that she must be a student.

So, to sum up, I think I've done well in being able to make an
effort to identify well known artists, even if I didn't get a chance
to buy any. I achieved my primary goal, to own some art, I learned a
lot, and I've had an adventure. When the final list of who made what
comes out, I'll be able to work out my hit rate for artists I was
prepared to make a guess at. But, looking back, the queuing
experience wasn't fun at all, and unless I win the raffle, I doubt
I'll go next year. I suspect the RCA Secret experience is the sort
of thing for which you need art loving friends, if you're to enjoy
waiting about doing nothing, or to be the artistic equivalent of a
train spotter, and prepared to stand about in all weather.

I'm thinking maybe I should have just bought some work by a well
known artist, the queuing experience was really that unpleasant, and
I'm annoyed about being charged extra. So, now every time I look at
the cards, I just think about the bad experiences I had. Maybe it'll
pass in a few weeks, I'll have to get them all framed and see how I
feel afterwards. Perhaps the answer is for the RCA Bouncers to
employ the same tactics used at night clubs; and to not let in
anyone that looks unwashed or dishevelled, I'm pretty sure that
would stop such a huge queue forming.

Finally, I'm still left with some questions:
- Why are so many of the cards needlessly offensive?
- What was the significance of the Matthew 7:13-14 quote?
- Who is Miyuki S. Harrington?

Answers on a postcard ;)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Secret revealed

A trip to the RCA microsite today reveals the postcards done by each individual artist. Congratulations to the RCA for another great show and the highly professional way in which the website has been managed.

Monday, November 27, 2006

RCA Secret 2006

This year the college changed the way in which we queue. There was to be a raffle for the first 50 places in the queue. The college would allow each registered buyer to buy 5 raffle tickets at £1 each. There would then be a draw to determine which of the raffle ticket holders would get the first 50 places in the queue.

The other innovation was that the sale would be on a Saturday rather than on a Friday. This was to allow more people to have access to the event without having to take a day off work to do so.

I was away for the weekend of the sale viewing so my first look at the cards was on the internet. After the problems that the college had had in publishing the cards on the internet the previous year this year it went like a dream. The cards were all published on the college’s website by 10 in the morning on the Friday and I then spent a happy number of hours going through them. Of course at that stage I did not know which artists would be contributing to the sale and I was surprised and a bit disappointed that despite going through the cards at least three times I was unable to spot the Grayson Perry and Julian Opie cards, amongst others.

I finally got to the see the cards “in the flesh” on the Monday. There I was able to have a good look at the contributor list and note a number of very high profile absentees. There was no Grayson Perry, Julian Opie, Nick Park, Peter Blake and Sol LeWitt all of whom had been regular contributors to previous year’s sales. This was a little disappointing as part of the fun of the exhibition for me is attempting to spot those artists. But there were still plenty of cards that I found attractive and interesting and I had a large number of cards on my list.

So how would the raffle affect things? Well I wasn’t sure. I felt that the people who drew the top 50 places in the queue might not know as much about the event as me. I felt that many of them would not be able to recognise works done by the leading artists in the show and might just end up buying other cards that they considered to be attractive pieces of art. Against that there were a number of cards that I had placed high up on my list that would be, I thought, extremely appealing to anyone, however much they knew about the event and the artists contributing. So would that diminish my prospects of getting those cards? I thought it probably would.

Of course there was always the prospect that I would win the raffle, although I thought it unlikely as I thought that if 5000 raffle tickets were bought my chances of winning the raffle would be about 1 in 20.

The next few days were spent going back through the cards and making and refining my list. By the Friday of the sale I had my list in some kind of order and was pretty pleased with myself to have confidently identified 3 Damien Hirsts, 4 Tracey Emins, 3 Olafur Eliassons, 4 Mary Feddens, 5 Quentin Blakes etc etc. The excitement of the raffle is that normally I put cards by these artists on my list more the fun of it but with the certain knowledge that those cards will be sold to someone ahead of my in the queue. Now of course I had the chance of being at the head of the queue.

So the Friday arrived and after exchanging various emails with the usual suspects about when we were going to start queuing I decided to turn up at around lunchtime on Friday and start queuing from then. I was hopeful that this would put me, at the very least, at around 60th place in the queue and if I won the raffle I could pack up my things and go home.

Of course come Friday morning I was so excited as I got all my things together that in the end I left the house earlier than I thought I would and I wound up at the college at around 11.30am pitching my tent. At that stage the weather was set fair and I thought we would be in for a reasonable night.

The next few hours were passed away having another look at all the cards spent in the company of the usual suspects – John, Hugh and Chris etc. We spent a happy time looking around pointing out cards to each other that we liked and comparing the relative merits of one card to another.

Excitement brewed as the last of the raffle tickets were sold and the box containing all of the raffle tickets was taken away. I am not sure in the end how many raffle tickets were bought but I know that the college had sold around 6000 by lunchtime and there was a steady stream of buyers after that.

I spent the next hour and half with my phone glued to my hand waiting expectantly for that phone call but sadly it never came. Others in the queue, both in front of me and behind me got the lucky phone calls including John. I was of course delighted for him but disappointed in a way that the “fellowship” of queuers was being broken.

The evening was a nightmare. High winds and driving rains battered us hardy individuals in the queue so that, by the morning, there were very few who were completely dry. I was quite lucky in that my tent kept me reasonably dry but there is a limit to what a £10 purchase from ebay can do against a torrential downpour. So my sleeping bag was soaked (and is still drying now) and my shoes and socks were sodden.

As the queue came to life in the morning I looked over to where the lucky 50 were congregating. The predicted chaos didn’t really materialise and nearly all of the 50 seemed to be there on time and were ready to go in to buy their cards at 7.30. Just before 8am we were allowed to wander down and take our places.

This is by far and away the most exciting and also the most nerve racking part of the experience. Watching the numbers of those cards disappear before your eyes can be desperately disappointing. My number one card and first pick was a card created by Peter Jones. Regular readers will be aware that I am a big fan of his work and I thought that his card was absolutely superb. I was also pretty convinced that it would be sold to someone in the first 50 as it was a very attractive piece of artwork.

Anyway as we got closer and closer to the front of the queue I was amazed that my number one choice was still there. I kept on nipping over to Chris behind me in the queue to say “It’s still there”. As I got closer and closer to the front I got more and more excited until, sadly the dreaded red box enclosed around that number.

Still I still had plenty on my list and there is always next year. So by the time I got to the front I was absolutely delighted to pick up:

A card by Graham Crowley that my daughter had picked out at the show as being the one that she wanted (mainly because it was pink). I simply couldn’t return without this.

My second favourite card in the show – a blue pencil drawing of a car by Ray Richardson. He entitled the card “Baby Baby Baby”.

A charmingly quixotic card by Glen Baxter that really tickled me of two men painting each others heads.

A really interesting card by Olafur Eliasson showing the 360 degrees of fairness in life (I guess) and that most of life is pretty unfair but with some grey areas and a small part which is truly OK.

So another really successful show both for me personally and, in my opinion, for the college who had to close the doors early after a near sell out. And there were success stories all round as Chris did his usual trick of picking up another Damien Hirst that no-one else had spotted and I learned that the Peter Jones card had gone to a very good home since John had got all.

So we all went home tired, drained and little bit emotionally rung out, ready and waiting for the RCA list of contributors to be published so that we can see who did what in anticipate of RCA Secret 2007.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

College unlikely to be open today

I understand from the college that it is highly unlikely that the sale will be on today as they have very nearly sold out. It was certainly incredibly busy all day and I have never seen so many people in the queue. I guess that was probably caused by the sale being on the Saturday.

First Impressions of RCA Secret

Here is the full text of a post by Jonathan to the Yahoo group. I think this is a very interesting insight into the sale from a newbie.

The various Daily Mail comments seem to reflect more than just the
narrow minded middle class views of a few newspaper readers. I
notice that with a lot of things in life, many people can't seem to
see the obvious, unless it is stuck under their noses, and pointed
out to them several times. Also, it always surprises me that people
want to impose their views on other people, when it would just be a
lot simpler for them to ignore the choices they find strange (unless
they are being inconvenienced in some way), or possibly far more
interesting for them to find out why people do what they do, and
then discuss it with them.

Being neither a narrow-minded Daily Mail reader or a pseudo-
intellectual Grauniad reader; and only a short while ago not being
able to tell my arts from my elbow, I hope that I can approach the
whole subject in a more open minded manner. So, I thought I'd tell a
few of my experiences here, for anyone that might possibly be

I started looking at this event a few weeks ago, and I realised that
I needed to research as many artists as possible, all whilst
limiting the choices to people that had easily recognisable styles,
so after compiling a really quite big list of contributors to
previous 'Secret' exhibitions, I conducted a number of combinations
of searches through Google for each artist, using certain key
phrases (to eliminate stray hits from similarly named people, and
reduce the skewing caused by the amount of irrelevant invective that
certain artists seem to attract.) combining the results of the
searches with a little maths in Excel, I produced my own
(approximate) artist purity index, which I used as a base to find
artists who would not present too great a difficulty in finding
examples of their work, in books or on the web. Conveniently, this
index brought most of the Fashion Designers, Musicians and people
who are only really known for one very specific thing to the top of
the list, where I was able to delete them. For anyone that's
interested, a very well known humorous illustrator gets the highest
artist ranking, and newspaper favourite artists that change styles a
lot rank near the bottom of the index.

This also leads me to belieive that people who were reported in
previous years news reports as claiming that they brought a
card "because they were in no doubt about who made it" probably
couldn't repeat this feat year after year.

So, after doing a little research about the artists, I went and
surprised myself by agreeing with many of their ideas and theories,
but oftentimes not being able to relate to their work. For example,
Damien Hirst seems like a very interesting character, but I still
can't see how a preserved animal carcass could be any more artistic
than a Laboratory specimen or some of the tacky stuffed animal heads
that you might see in a countryside pub. But at least I know what he
is trying to achieve and is no longer just "that guy that chops
animals up and sticks them in formaldehyde". Unfortunately, Tracey
Emin talks about making autobiographical art; and I can only
conclude that she must be really quite an uninteresting person that
spends a lot of her time whining and moaning about how life has
treated her badly.

But anyway, I spent several hours at the RCA last Weekend, took
plenty of notes, and was pleasantly surprised to see that they were
exhibiting art of all different types, even nice water colours that
I'm sure anybody would have a hard time trying to put down... I have
to admit though that I can't see anything artistic at all in #0187,
and unless some more knowledgeable person here can explain what I am
failing to see with this piece, I'll have to concede that Daily Mail
readers do have some small point. Similarly, the card that just
advertises some website seems like blatant abuse of the exhibition,
so I hope that their website is overrun by swarming hoards of Daily
Mail readers.

Getting back to the exhibition, I wasn't really prepared to look at
2,500 artistic postcards, and with so much art in such a small
space, after about an hour or so I found myself losing focus and it
all became a little overwhelming. All the looking up and then
crouching down made me a little bit light-headed, so I took a step
back and started watching the other people in the gallery, who in a
lot of cases were a lot more interesting than some of the postcards.
One gentleman seemed to be able to interpret some of artworks like
he was reading a book. I don't know who he was, maybe he was the
person that made the cards he was talking about, an artist of some
kind or just making it up as he went along. Either way, he seemed
confident doing what he was doing, and his friends seemed quite

Of the other people, many didn't obviously know much about art, or
were just pointing out the more unusual designs to their companions
and commenting about how strange or weird they looked. A lot of
people seemed to be very guarded about what they were choosing,
keeping complete printouts of the RCA website very close to their
chests; although I did overhear quite a few people calling out
numbers for their friends to note, or I saw where they were
pointing. In all those cases, the art didn't look like anything
special or even anything that I could recognise; which is a relief,
since I assumed that all the visitors would be quite knowledgeable,
spot a dozen or so works that would be like the low-hanging fruit,
and which would then be snapped up as soon as the doors opened on
the sale day.

The staff were happy to talk about the exhibition, were friendly and
polite, the Security guard even confirmed that last year the gallery
was packed out from opening till about 10am, and then almost empty
for the rest of the day. But most amazingly, the visitors in several
cases were a miserable bunch that didn't like talking to people. So,
I suppose at least some the stereotype ideas people have told me
about elitism and snobbery in art are true. But no matter, I'm sure
those people will be happier when they're sitting at home with their

Anyway, after the exhibition and a very agreeable dinner at a local
Kensington restaurant, I was still left with a big pile of notes and
started wondering how to organise them. A very small number of cards
I was quietly confident about and some I had a vague inkling that
I'd seen something similar somewhere before, but couldn't quite put
my finger on it. So, what would be the best strategy to get
something I liked by a famous artist? Would I be disappointed if I
listed 100 cards and only got the 100th one? Obviously, it's best to
buy tickets for the raffle, and make use of all four purchasing
opportunities. I guess if I'm very wrong or change my mind about any
of the artworks, my family and friends will get slightly unusual
presents this Christmas ;)

I decided that I would have a pretty low chance of success if I
followed the media's advice and tried to buy a Hirst or an Emin, not
that I'd be happy with either, since I've come to realise that I'd
rather buy something more cheerful. But either way, I needed to make
some kind of list, and then optimise it so that I had the best
chance of getting a good card, relative to my position in the queue.
I might be fortunate enough to get first choice, but putting all the
cards in an order of preference seemed impossible for me. Some were
similar and quite obviously by the same artist, if I listed them all
together I might end up with a number of very similar cards, and I
liked a lot of cards for a lot of different reasons, so it wasn't
really possible to line them up on the same scale.

Therefore, I decided I could reduce the risk of choosing all unknown
artists or cards entirely by the same artist, by sorting the choices
into different categories and diversifying my choice across the
categories. Perhaps I'll be terrible at picking in one category, but
I might have more skill in another. I'll only pick two from the same
category if all the choices in the other categories become exhausted.

This seems like a pretty good plan to me, and so hopefully I'll end
up with a good selection. I've brought my raffle tickets now, so I
may be lucky enough to get VIP early entrance and a good choice, but
looking at the numbers of raffle tickets sold, that seems quite
unlikely. Although at least all the money goes to a good cause. I'll
report back on what happened at the sale, afterwards.

I hope that everyone here is talented enough to select the art they

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Is there a queue?

Has anyone been down to the RCA today or yesterday? Has a queue started to form yet. I would suggest that it is unlikely but nothing surprises me about this sale. Despite the presence of the first fifty raffle I suspect there will be at least 20 people in the queue by the midnight on Friday. We shall have to wait and see...

Friday, November 17, 2006

The wait is over

The RCA secret cards have been published. Go to the dedicated microsite to view. Have fun people.Click here to view

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Couple of RCA Secret Articles

Here are links to a couple of other short RCA Secret articles.

This first is on the website Visit London

The second is a short piece that was in the London Paper last night.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Paula Rego's contribution

Below is the text reproduced from an article in the Independent on 8 November 2006. Also pictured is another bit of fun from John MacMahon.

The artist Paula Rego has just sent in two postcard-sized artworks to this year's RCA Secret , the bargain art sale. Each year famous artists donate work, which is sold anonymously alongside that of hundreds of other artists, including students or recent graduates of the RCA and other art colleges, who are all helping to raise money for the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund. It is not until the card is bought for £35 that the artist's name is revealed.

Last year's postcard art-works included Damien Hirst's flying dove with a skull, Julian Opie's female nude, Rego's sketch of a mother and baby, Grayson Perry's colour drawing of a proposed monument for the Trafalgar Square plinth and Olafur Eliasson's mathematical drawing. Hirst and Eliasson return this year, and Tracey Emin and David Bailey are also taking part.

"Two blank cards arrived in the post," says Rego. "I forgot about them for a while. Then I realised I was running out of time." The Portuguese artist set to work on the postcards in her studio in Camden. "Inspiration never comes in flashes," she says. "I always make my work from my studio. I find it difficult to do it anywhere else because I am used to it. If I do it from home, I eat or watch telly. I am surrounded in my studio by props which I use in my pictures - rabbit heads and other creatures I make myself - rails of clothes and mannequins that I dress up." At the time, Rego was a little busy, finishing off the work for her current exhibition (running until 18 November) of pastels and lithographs at Marlborough Fine Art. Among her own work, she is very fond of The Fisherman (2005), a pastel triptych in the current exhibition, and the Dog Woman series of the 1990s, a set of pastel pictures of women in dog-like poses, including baying at the moon.

"Although my style varies quite a lot, I think people who know it will be able to recognise my work," she says.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New York Times Article

Below is the text from a New York Times article published on 10 November 2006. Of most relevance is that the names of a few more contributors are given including Ken Loach, Terry Gilliam and Manolo Blahnik all of whom have contributed to the show before.

Who’s the Artist?

Artworks by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Christo and many others will be on sale for $67 apiece in London on Nov. 25 and 26. But prospective buyers should know two things. The art is postcard size, and the creators won’t be identified in advance. Not until the purchase is completed will the buyer be able to see the artist’s signature on the reverse side. The sale, which features the work of 900 contributors, including Manolo Blahnik, Terry Gilliam, Ken Loach, Graham Coxon of Blur and John Squire of Stone Roses, is a benefit for the Royal College of Art. From next Friday to Nov. 24, prospective buyers, limited to four purchases each, can view the 2,600 works.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

RCA Secret Contributing Artists

Word from the college about some of the artists contributing to the sale this year which apparently include:

Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Paula Rego, David Bailey, Christo, fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, musicians Graham Coxon and John Squire.

Being a student at Manchester University in the height of the Stone Roses and the "Madchester" scene the inclusion of John Squire is intringuing. In addition to being a founder member of the band he designed the covers for many of the iconic Stone Roses singles and albums. As far as I am aware this is the first time he has contributed.

Finally, pictured is a little bit of fun John MacMahon had with one of Damien Hirst's cards from last year.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When we will know some of the Artists?

Come on our friends at the RCA - give us a sneak preview of the artists exhibiting at RCA Secret.  Even the times article on Monday didn't seem to know for sure who might be exhibiting.  Chris Ofili would seem to be the lead "name" that may be.  With only 3 weeks to go to the exhibition we would love to know.

Monday, October 30, 2006

RCA Secret 2006 Times article

Here is an article that is published in the times today. For an online version click here. The newspaper version features a picture of one more of the postcards.

Incidentally the article is wrong (or alternatively Anthony Waites isn't as good a spotter as he thinks he is). As far as I am aware there was no Chris Ofili postcard in last years exhibition. I think Ofili has only done the show once before in 2000 but stand to be corrected?

Can you tell a wannabe from an Ofili? Test your eye at the RCA's secret sale
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

TRUST your eye and, for £35, you could become the owner of an original work, by a famous artist, worth thousands of pounds.
The Royal College of Art’s Secret Postcard Sale and Exhibition, returns for its 13th year next month with 2,500 miniature paintings and drawings on show.

Published in The Times today is a selection of the works. They may include a Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin or David Bailey, or an offering by a fashion designer such as Sir Paul Smith or Manolo Blahnik, the shoe designer.

Others are by RCA students who might be the stars of tomorrow. Peter Blake, Emin, Chris Ofili, as well as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, are all graduates of the RCA.

Such is the draw of this selling exhibition, that visitors brave cold and rain, camping outside the building in South Kensington in tents, sleeping-bags and thermals. Last year one man endured a record two weeks on the pavement.

Although some of the featured artists command huge prices on the open market — a work by Hirst, his pickled shark, was reportedly sold two years ago for £6.5 million — RCA buyers are not buying for investment, it seems. The RCA has yet to hear of anyone selling a purchase.

The regulars come back year after year and say that they have no intention of parting with anything. The secret of the show’s success is that people can go home with original works by well-known artists with little financial risk.

Anthony Waites, 45, a postman from Mill Hill, in North London, said that, even when he spotted a card last year by Chris Ofili, the Turner prizewinner, he chose something instead that he actually liked.

Having visited the show five times, he has a built up a collection of 24 cards that includes a Mornington Crescent streetscene by Frank Auerbach, one of Britain’s foremost artists.

He told The Times: “They’re all on the wall, up the hallway, like a little gallery. I only buy something I really like. I wouldn’t sell any of them.”

Mr Waites started going to the RCA show because it was the only way he could afford to buy an original work of his own. One year, he camped out for two nights with a friend, their spirits buoyed up by the camaraderie of fellow art lovers.

Postcards can only be bought on a first-come, first-served basis. This year the RCA is introducing a system for the sale queue — a raffle for the first 50 places in the queue.

A spokeswoman said the RCA felt it was “a bit dangerous” to have art lovers camping out for days and nights on end.

The proceeds of the sale go to the Royal College of Art Fine Art Student Award Fund, which helps to support emerging artists during their time at the college.

Since 1994, Secret Sales have raised more than £650,000.

All the cards will be displayed at the RCA, Kensington Gore, London SW7, from November 17-24, followed by sale days on November 25 and 26. Potential buyers may also, from the first day of the show, view the postcards online at

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Doodle for Hunger

Here is a bit of fun for those readers who may be the other side of the pond. On thursday of this week there is an auction of celebrity and artists doodles in aid of charity.

The doodles include this pictured one by Al Pacino. Click here to visit the website.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Deadline Day

According to the website of Nigel Grimmer, one of the contributing artists to RCA Secret, today is the deadline for submission of postcards for this year's show. Now as we know the RCA don't turn away "late entrants" particularly not those submitted by the great and the good of the art world. Nevertheless expect an announcement shortly from the RCA about some of the artists who might be exhibiting.

A clue might be in this link which appears to have a list of contributing artists but doesn't make clear whether those are artists who have contributed to past shows or whether those are just some of the contributions to this years show.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

RCA Interview

With just a few weeks to go before RCA Secret 2006 I caught up with the friendly people at the RCA for an exclusive interview. My thanks to Anna Larkin in the RCA Media relations team for all her help:

PH: With less than 2 months to go before RCA Secret starts is there a lot more to organise?

Yes there is still lots to do at this stage. The most important thing is receiving the artists’ work and so many things can’t be done until the postcards arrive – cataloguing, photographing and planning for the display of the exhibition.

PH: When do you start planning the show?

Planning for RCA Secret happens all year-round but the office where everything happens opens at the beginning of the summer.

PH: How do the artists get involved? Do you have a list of artists that you send out blank cards to or is there a call for artists to contribute?

All the artists are invited, this includes our own RCA fine art students and graduates which represents an extraordinary amount of talent and then an extra number of established artists and designers, many of whom already have a connection with the College or have contributed to RCA Secret previously. We also research new artists who have never done it before and whom we would like to take part.

PH: The number of cards in the show seems to change each year. Do you exhibit all of the cards received? If not what happens to the cards that you don't exhibit?

We try and exhibit all the cards from invited artists, and try to accommodate latecomers as best we can. The artists have donated their work to support our students, so we really want to include them.

PH: Can you give us a sneak preview of the artists who have contributed to this year's show so far?

No, sorry! We’re keeping it secret for a little while longer yet. Keep checking the RCA website for updates.

PH: Last year the cards were not published on the internet until two days before the sale, and then not all of the cards were published. It must be a logistical nightmare photographing and cataloging all the cards. When do you think the internet site will be up and running this year?

It’s a big undertaking, and we’re never quite sure how many and when cards will arrive, so when we received over 2,000 cards last year it took longer than we anticipated. We also had some technical hitches last year. We’ve addressed the problem for this year and we’ll be doing our best to launch it on 17 November.

PH: So how do you keep the secret? What stops details of who did what leaking out before the sale commences?

Only a small group of people who work on RCA Secret know who has done the cards and we are all committed to it being a success and raising money for the students. Therefore we wouldn’t want to jeopardise this in any way. I also have to sign a contract in blood to keep the secret – on the back of course (only joking).

PH: You have stuck with the decision to keep the number of cards each individual can buy down to 4. This certainly seemed to work last year in that it gave people more choice. Any plans to reduce this number any further?

For the time being we are keeping it at 4 per person.

PH: I know lots of people who would love to have a second bite of cherry and buy another set of cards. Have you ever thought of allowing buyers to buy another 4 cards on the second day of the sale? Do you think this would work?

We prefer to allow people to just buy 4 cards so that more visitors get the chance to buy them.
It’s always good to get extra ideas, but we’re keeping to the four cards per buyer for this year anyway.

PH: You have introduced a raffle ticket system for first 50 places in queue for this years sale. What was the rationale behind that?

The “jump-the-queue raffle” is an added feature for this year – it’s fun, it raises more for the student fund, and it helps with accessibility for those who can’t queue for days on end.

PH: How are the logistics of that going to work? Presumably only registered buyers will be entitled to buy raffle tickets? How are they going to be informed of their success in the raffle? How will you stop people purchasing more than one set of raffle tickets, taking someone else's identity in the raffle or auctioning their raffle position on ebay?

It’s based on a normal raffle ticket system. Registered buyers can only buy up to 5 tickets at the show, we pick the numbers out of the hat the day before the sale and then telephone the 50 lucky winners. If someone doesn’t want to attend then we pick another ticket.

PH: You indicated after last year's sale that camping would be banned in future years. What would be your message to people intending to queue overnight (or for longer) at this years sale?

It’s great having such an enthusiastic following for RCA Secret and we are very grateful to the many regular buyers who come year after year. However, we want more people to have a fair chance of being first in the queue. We also don’t want people camping in freezing cold weather and getting ill.

PH: Perhaps unlike any other art event in London RCA Secret has a large group of extremely dedicated and knowledgable fans. You must be delighted with the way in which the sale has captured the public's imagination and broadened the interest in contemporary art?

It’s fantastic. The artists’ work is amazing both individually and as a mass exhibition. It really represents what’s going on in art now, and is a pleasure to visit, whether you buy or not.

PH: A few years ago you used to sell frames at the sale so that people could instantly frame up their purchases. Are there any plans to do this again?

No plans this year but it’s something we might consider for the future.

PH: The list of contributors to RCA Secret reads like a who's who of UK contemporary art. Have you ever thought of publishing a catalogue of some (or all) of the contributions to RCA Secret over the years?

A catalogue would be extremely expensive to produce and as the event is to raise funds for the students we don’t think we should use the money in this way. I believe it would also go against the immediacy and spirit of the show. The website does act as an archive to an extent though.

PH: At the end of the sale what happens to the small number of cards that are not sold?

We do our best to sell all the cards and keep to our commitment to the artist to use their work the way it was intended. Some artists request cards to be returned if they are not sold, which we do.

Friday, September 29, 2006

10 artists who make RCA Secret

Since we are in a lists mood I thought I would set out my list of the 10 artists who, in my opinion, make RCA Secret the great event that it is. This is my own personal list. Not all of the artists are “names” some are just artists who over the years have caught my eye, both through their talent or for some other reason.

1) Damien Hirst – the ultimate symbol of the YBA Britart scene, Hirst has been a regular contributor and supporter of RCA Secret. Whilst many have said that he disguises his cards for the sale in fact his drawings are frequently follow his tried and tested themes of death, pharmacology and butterflies. He has also contributed cards featuring a drawing of a dog and of hieroglyphics. Contrary to the apparent popular view I find a lot of card extremely interesting.

2) Mary Fedden – the grand old lady of British Art. In her 90’s and still producing work of simplistic genius. Last year she produced one of her cats which was amongst the finest RCA Secret postcards I have ever seen. It stood out like a beacon amongst the sea of cards around it. These cards are always sold to the first 1 or 2 in the queue and I can understand why.

3) Sol LeWitt – Is Sol LeWitt a minimalist? Is he an abstract artist? We could argue about this until the cows come home but my opinion is that his secret postcards are rubbish and have no artistic merit whatsoever. This is a shame because so much of his other work is distinctive and interesting. The cards do not hold the slightest interest for me and the fact that they are always sold to people at the top of the queue tells you an awful lot about some of the people that queue.

4) Vicky Finding – not a particularly well known artist but I think her cards, typically abstract landscape done in oils look absolutely outstanding. I have one framed up in my living room from the 2004 sale and my eye is frequently drawn to it.

5) John Bellany – instantly recognisable and distinctive Bellany often contributes up to 5 cards for the show. One person I queue with picks up at least one of his cards every year. I’ve not added one to my collection yet but that is not through lack of admiration for them.

6) Peter Jones – this hugely talented London artist contributes only card to the show each year but what a card it is. Jones is a hugely talented painter whose current theme – exquisitely detailed stuffed monkeys – allows him to showcase his eye for detail, talent and wit.

7) Bob and Roberta Smith – real name Patrick Brill - the cards contributed by Bob and Roberts Smith are conceptual thought-provoking and funny, often providing a tongue in cheek dig at the art world.

8) Holly Johnson – the former frontman of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Holly always contributes a couple of cards which, frankly, aren’t very good. Rumours abound that one year Holly’s work had not been bought and that he had to come in on the second day of the sale and buy his own card. Bless him. My sister has one of his cards in her collection and she swears to me that she actually quite likes it.

9) Candra Cassini – who is Candra Cassini? No really who is she? There is very little detail about her on the internet and even the RCA, when I asked them a couple of years ago, were only able to tell me that she was an Italian artist who was trained in the style of the old masters. And boy can you tell. Not everyone’s cup of tea but her works are miniature masterpieces. I have a still life by her of a bottle of wine and a bowl of fruit that is exquisitely painted.

10) Rut Blees Luxemburg - I had to put one Photographer in the list and for me this is definitely the one. Her photographs bring city scenes and architectural features to life.

So there is my list. I would love to hear from others with their list.

Monday, September 25, 2006

7 reasons why I love the RCA secret sale

Here is a piece originally posted on the yahoo group by John MacMahon. Sums up I think how we all feel about RCA Secret.

My 7 reasons why I love the RCA Secret Sale.

1. Accessibility

The RCA Secret Sale is open to everybody, no exclusive opening, no pretentious setting, no worries about not having a clue about art, no need to pretend you know what you are looking at. No problems in looking at something and saying "yeah right, that'll be the last one to go". No Entry fee, No overzealous sales staff.

2. Making your list

I like the one with the dogs, but my wife likes the metal one with the ladder. Do I really like the blue one more than the red one? I think that would look really good in the living room next, no maybe the corridor is better. That one is terrible, but it might be Damien Hirst trying to disguise his work. But what if it isn't?.....

After a few times there, making your list is a lot of fun. If you want to have an idea who the work is by before you buy, or are looking for a particular artist famous or otherwise, then this can open up all sort of other possibilities (see last point).

3. Queuing

I can safely say that I have never met such a fun, friendly, yet diverse collection of people as I have while queuing for the postcards. The excitement builds as you'd expect, it's like a social game of poker, with everyone wanting to talk about the postcards, the artists, their desires, but all holding their book of numbers close to their chest. Its a great place to celebrate and discuss what you like about art. When I have brought a printout of all the cards, it has been the source for many last minute changes and re-re-prioritisatio n of lists. Lots of advice abounds, but people are often conscious of those in the queue ahead of you. Having said that advice trickles mostly down, but sometimes up the queue.

4. Sale Day

Here you are, cold, with nothing but Snickers, a Starbucks,and adrenaline holding you together. As the queue surges downstairs you cannot help but be nervous, clumsily checking you still have your credit card, and your 'Red marker of disappointment' as your go through the 'Argos meets Bingo' scenario of seeing your numbers being sold in front of you on the LCD Screens. As the queue progresses the numbers seem to go quicker to a stage where its no longer possible to keep up. Just when your list gets totally unmanageable you get to the front, give them your ID number and then GO!!!
"Do you have 1123?" …….."No."

"724?" ………......…………….."Yes!"

"Oh my God" you think, "I can't believe it. I'mgetting something that I want!!!!" Your excitement is overtaken by the desire to keep it moving, as you blurt out a list of numbers. But with Three down and one to go, you pause, reflect upon the numbers already called, and hesitate on the next number on your list. Why? Because the next card is a landscape and you already chose one of them becuase you didnt think you would get it? But you really wanted it up to 45 seconds ago, more than the next postcard of a pair of red shoes. Time is ticking; you feel the tension like you are the one that has to cut either the red or the blue wire to defuse a bomb. You make the decision, breathe a sigh of relief that's it all over, collect your receipt and try to find the energy to make it upstairs.

5. Turning Your Cards over

After swearing that you'd never ever queue again for anything, you are immediately thrust into another queue for one of the runners to collect your cards. At this stage indecision, regret, and confusion about what exactly you chose dominate your mind. But not for long, as I inevitably guide the runner to where the cards are in the gallery, (having had severalvisits to confirm their location). And then, after a signature the moment arrives. Any one of the following can happen up to four times…

Turnover (the one you thought wouldn't be there) …Yes! I am the King!!!

Turnover (the one your knew all along) …As expected, phew.

Turnover (the famous artist gamble) …Oh well, Another Fridge Magnet,

Turnover (the one of the red shoes) …Never heard of her, still lovely though!

6+7. Enjoyment + Much More

I'll put the last two reasons into one as they go hand in hand. I first went to RCA Secret thinking I would get lovely cards worth a fortune and some stuff like that. But what actually happened I didn't expect. I got interested! I wanted to get a card by Sol Lewitt, as his retrospective was on show in San Francisco when I visited in 2000 while on my honeymoon, and I thought it would be a nice memento for our home. So, I looked up Sol Lewitt up in Books and the web. I got to understand what his art was all about, and why his art was deemed worthy to make them an artist of note (something that the MoMA inSanFran failed to do).

At the RCA Secret, there is a lot of Conceptual/Abstract art on display, which I can't fully enjoy the without the knowledge of what it is about. So when I realised the postcard wasn't Sol LeWitt's, I instead looked up the artist I chose, and read about how she interprets Life experiences using Lines of Different Colours and layers. Not to say I am now a diehard fan of Colette Morey du Morand as a result, but I can enjoy my postcard for what it truly represents. And the whole experience inadvertedly opened my mind just a little more, to the world of art.....

.....Which would NEVER have happened thanks to RCA Secret. Hell, I didn't even know what the RCA was before I went to my first postcards sale!

So, Thanks RCA, thanks for making Art more accessible, affordable, for showing it for what is really is without names or prices, for organising a show that is fun to attend, has something for everyone, and a personal thanks for providing me with the only opening to the world of Art that has worked for me. See you soon!

So how much are they worth?

When I tell people about the RCA Secret show after they have picked their jaw up from the floor when I tell them the maximum period of time I have queued for (24 hours) and the maximum period of time I am aware that others have queued for (2 weeks) the next question I am always asked is how much the postcards are worth.

The simple answer for me personally is that I don't really care. I wouldn't sell my collection and for me RCA Secret is a way of enabling me to have contemporary art on my walls that I would not be able to afford otherwise. I did attempt to sell one postcard once in a period when I was really skint. It was a postcard created by Lawrence Weiner (pictured) for the 2004 sale and I put it in a Bonhams sale with a reserve of £250. It didn't sell. I later sold it on ebay for £150. I felt really bad selling it but I still have 2 cards by this artist in my collection and at the time I really needed the money.

One of the people I regularly queue with says that he would only sell his secret postcards to buy other art. This chap never queues for more than 18 hours but has, in his secret postcard collection, cards by Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Nick Park. Sir Paul McCartney and Sol LeWitt amongst many others. So I guess if he were ever to sell he would make a lot of money. But I am pretty sure he never will.

One concern with the queueing system for the first 50 places in this years sale is that people will be more inclined to see the sale as a money making opportunity. I have already spoken to a number of people who have no real interest in contemporary art but have decided to buy raffle tickets in the hope that they can pick up a card by a leading artist and sell it the next day. Once you take out the "investment time" of queueing for hours it is inevitable you will get more cash hungry punters.

Anyway since it is such a repeatedly asked question I thought I would try and answer it as best I can.

Not many of the postcards by the leading lights of the RCA Secret sale have ever, to my knowledge, been sold. If anyone has any concrete information about sales that have taken place (or are going to take place) then I would love to hear it.

A comparable event was the art of care auction in 2005. This was an auction of postcard sized cards for in aid of tsunami relief. The auction took place in Scotland.

Because it was a charity event the prices realised may be slightly higher than in a normal event. Nevertheless we are given a good clue about potential values. Some of the prices realised for Secret artists are as follows:

Norman Ackroyd - £700 and £400
Elizabeth Blackadder - £800
Tracey Emin - £1,000
Anthony Frost - £350
Damien Hirst - £4,500
Paul McCartney - £1,500
Chris Orr - £380
Barbara Rae - £600
Mario Testino - £800
David Hockney - £7,200

A full list of prices realised can be found by clicking here.

As for sales of secret postcards there is a database on the rca secret yahoo group of cards sold on ebay. A John Bellany card sold for £245 and a Billy Childish card for £255. Of the less well known artists the smallest amount I have seen paid for a potscard was one by Rose Peeters that did not even make £3, and it was framed.

So the answer to the question "How much are they worth" is difficult to give. To me they are priceless.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Queuing system in operation for RCA Secret 2006

A new innovative queueing system will be in place for this year's sale. This is what the RCA Say:

"And secondly, we’re going to give everyone the chance of being in the first 50 places in the queue on the morning of the sale by entering a raffle. During the viewing period visitors can buy a maximum of 5 raffle tickets, at £1 each, and be entered into a raffle for the places. On the day before the sale, tickets will be drawn for the first 50 places and the winning participants will be notified. A normal queueing system will be resumed after the first 50 people have bought their cards."

This scheme is not dissimilar to a proposal I made to them last year. I sent them an email suggesting that they adopt this system:

"Instead of handing out raffle tickets to people at the front of the
queue to show which order they are in the queue why not have a bucket
full of 48 numbered raffle tickets. The first 48 people in the queue
would then be invited to remove a raffle ticket from the bucket. The
numbers on the ticket would be the order they could purchase cards
in. The security staff would then allow the first 48 people in the
queue downstairs. The holders of tickets 1-6 would then be invited
(all at the same time) to go up to the purchase point and purchase
their cards. Once they were done you would then invite holders 7-12
to purchase etc etc until you had got rid of all the diehard
queuers. The rest of the queue could be dealt with in the same way
you have always dealt with it.

I think that this would stop completely people camping for days and
days and the competition at the front of the queue to see who could
get there first. It wouldn't matter who was first or who was
thirtieth, everyone would be in with the same chance of being in the
first six to buy cards"

Personally I think that my way is better, but then I would say that wouldn't I. It is clear, however, that the RCA have had to do something about the die hard queuers and I can see that this definitely makes sense from their perspective. Administratively it is going to be hard for the RCA - how do they notify all 50 of the lucky people who are first in the queue on the day before the sale?

Also I still think it will not necessarily stop people queueing. I would still be inclined to queue for a few hours for a chance to be 51st in the queue.

What does everyone else think?

RCA Secret Sponsorship

I understand from the Royal College of Art that David Roberts is not sponsoring RCA Secret 2006, contrary to previously advised. Apologies for the incorrect information.

RCA secret Yahoo group

Don't forget to join the RCA Secret Yahoo group for more chat about RCA Secret. We are now only 2 months away from the sale and the period of research really starts now. The contemporary art world goes into a fair and auction frenzy in October and this gives everyone a real opportunity to carry out more research. Whilst you don't have to share your research with everyone it is good to talk.

Click here to sign up - it only takes a few minutes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Fiona MacDonald's view on RCA secret

You don't have to be a devoted and obsessional fan of RCA secret to enjoy it. Fiona MacDonald has attended the sale on a number of occasions. She has a website where she has put up pictures of some of the cards she has bought in the past (including this Richard Smith card pictured opposite). This is what she says about the sale:

Reading about the research and stoicism involved in being a Secret Art devotee makes me feel rather naive and amateurish.

I collect printed postcards anyway, so it's good to have a subset of originals, and perhaps I will accidentally find a gem by a current or future celebrity artist.
I tend to turn up and see what catches my eye. I have had some quirky themes over the years, most recently gardens, after an abstract phase. Ended up buying two by same artist because I liked the lime green colour. Postcard size is ideal for miniature exquisitely detailed drawings, although it's amazing what creative people can do with a postcard. Some don't look as though they would last though.
Arriving sometimes on the second sales day has meant pretty empty walls, but at least there's less choice! And no queue. I find that about 30 minutes of looking is enough before my eyes & brain are overcome with the sea of haphazard images. And I haven't found the tearoom yet. It's great fun though, especially when not too crowded.

As for contemporary art, my interest is as abstract as some of the art. I liked the neon light installations at Yorshire Sculpture Park, but would have to look up the artist (James Turrell).
I like both the building and art of Tate Modern (big spider & huge horn thing were amazing, sugar cubes were interesting), and am an RA Friend, but don't get there enough. Saw the Summer Exhibition - I like art that makes me laugh, even when it's not meant to.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Another secret sale

This one is in Cincinnati for those readers of this blog from across the pond. Looks like a good cause as well. Click on Artworks Cincinnati for more details.

RCA secret 2006 announced

The RCA Secret sale has been announced by the RCA. Click here to go to the original article (or it is reproduced below).

Two points to note. Firstly they have
not said that camping in banned, merely that it is discouraged. This
is the same sort of language that was being used last year.

Secondly the sale date has been moved to a Saturday. If they wanted to
reduce the amount of queueing etc it seems to me that this is not the
way to do it. The queue was kept shorter because a lot of people
couldn't make the sale due to work commitments. That is now not the

Personally I see no reason why the RCA shouldn't make as much money
from the sale as possible and it therefore makes sense to move it to
Saturday. It does mean the queue will be longer though...

Also what is the point of the second day of the sale? With the first
day of the sale being Saturday surely nothing will be left by Sunday.
I have been there at 6pm on a Friday before and there is hardly
anything left.



RCA Secret was initiated in 1994 and has become an annual exhibition and sale of postcard sized works of art. Each year hundreds of artists including established and up and coming names, create unique pieces of art which the public can buy for just £35 each. As in previous years all monies raised go to the Royal College of Art Fine Art Student Award Fund, which helps support emerging artists during their time at the College. To date, sales of postcards have raised over £650,000 for the Fund.

Of course it’s not quite that simple. Each artwork has a number but remains a secret until the buyer has handed over their money and the artist's signature is revealed on the back.

Support for RCA Secret has grown over the years and the list of artists who have contributed to the event reads like a Who’s Who of the artworld – from Damien Hirst, Bill Viola and Tracey Emin to David Hockney, Julian Opie and Paula Rego. And the best thing of all is, even if you don’t spot a postcard by a well-known name this time, you could go home with a star of the future. Many of the contributing artists are current students or recent graduates of the Royal College of Art along with other leading art colleges, destined to go on to big things. The only piece of advice we offer is: choose something because you like it. Anything else is just a bonus.

Here are some frequently asked questions which may help:

When can I view the postcards?
Postcards can be viewed at the Royal College of Art on the following dates:
17-23 November: 10am-6pm daily and 24 November: 10am-8pm

Potential buyers will also be able to view all the postcards on-line from the first day of the show at This means that buyers living outside London only need to make one visit on the sale days.

When can I buy the postcards?
Postcards can only be bought on the allocated sale days in person. The sale days this year are:
Saturday 25 November: 8am to 8pm
Sunday 26 November: 10am to 4pm

Postcards are sold strictly on a first come, first served basis, they can't be reserved in advance and there are no sealed bids or auctions.
A maximum of 4 cards can be bought per person.

How do I become a buyer?
Potential buyers need to pre-register before the sale days. This is to make the sales process much quicker. You can register in person during the viewing days or by email: You will be given a registration number which you must bring with you on sale day.

What methods of payment do you accept?
Cash, cheque, debit and credit card.

What if I don't get the cards I have picked?
It is always a good idea to have alternative numbers of cards in case your first choices have been bought. Please keep a note of the numbers you would like to buy.

How long will I have to queue on sale day?
RCA Secret is very popular and the first day will be very busy. Try and come down an hour or two before the doors open at 8am. Please do not be tempted to camp outside the building as the College cannot take any responsibility for your health and safety. As it will be November please wear warm clothes or bring a blanket. Once the doors open the process moves fairly quickly and the queue usually subsides by about 12 noon.

Do all the best cards go in the first few hours?
Alot of the cards do sell quickly in the morning but many cards are usually still available in the afternoon and the next day. Please don't be discouraged if you can only come in the afternoon - you may be surprised how many big names are left!

Can I return the cards if I don't like them?
We will only make a refund if there has been a genuine mistake made and you have received incorrectly numbered cards.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Music as therapy secret postcard show

News of another secret postcard show hit me recently. This is the secret postcard show from the small but perfectly formed london based charity Music as Therapy.

The show featured postcards donated by artists which, true to form were anonymous on the front and were signed on the back. They cost the familiar sum of £35. You only get to find out the identity of the artist once you buy the postcard. Sound familiar?

The postcards are still available for viewing online.

Unfortunately this is written in the past tense as the sale has sadly come and gone. The friendly organisers tell me, however, that they are planning another sale next year and will keep me posted on the when and the where. The first sale was a great success and raised over £2,500. When I know the date of the next sale I will let you know. In the meantime I'm sure the charity would be happy for anyone's support.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

RCA Summer Show review

On Sunday I went along to Part 1 of the Royal College of Art Summer show for graduating students.

As usual the college has put on a highly professional show which is well signed and a pleasure to walk round. The catalogue (both online and in print) is also well written and produced. Other art schools could really learn a thing or two from the way in which the RCA put on their show.

There were many highlights for me but to sum up a few of them:

Abigail Smith (painting) - beautiful, thought provoking intimately woven embroidered silk tapestries depicting what at first sight would appear to be traditional mythological scenes but look closer and you will see hints of a darker sexual nature. For me the highlight of the painting show.

Ursula Llewellyn (painting) - nude men, deceptive scales, well executed.

Brigida Mendes (photography) Original photos of old women - visual tricks with shadow and perception. In my opinion head and shoulders above the other photography offerings.

Ulrich Gebert (photography) much has been made of this talented young german artist. He shunned photography to produce a thought provoking piece on genetically modified crops and seeds. Well worth a second look.

Duncan Cook (Photography) this appealed to the scientist in me - pictures of marbles set up to look like the planets. Fun.

Nick Turvey (Glass) quite stunning pieces of coloured glass in all sorts of different tactile curves. I would have gone home with one of Nick's pieces if I could afford it!

Olivia Lowe absolutely beautiful silver vases for single stemmed flowers. Stunning. How do you put the water in though?

Adam Bridgland (printmaking) quirky 1950's style prints advertising a more wholesome time. Not totally original but well executed, quirky and amusing.

Well those are just some of the highlights but I would strongly suggest that you go along and see it for yourself. There is plenty of interesting stuff.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

RCA Show starts soon

The round of Art School summer shows has started with the Scuplture show at the Royal College of art starting on 25 May and the show Part 1 starting on 26 May 2006. Of all the Art school summer shows I find this one to be the most professionally run and an absolute pleasure to attend. It is also great for RCA secret research as many of the students showing will subsequently submit cards for the sale.

There is so much to see you could be there all day. The RCA have set up a dedicated website for the show.

Click here to be taken to it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Postcards from the Edgy

Here is is an article originally published in the independent in 2003:

Each year, the Royal College of Art sells `postcards' at pounds 35 each to raise money for its students. Most are by unknown artists, but a few are by the biggest names in the business. Caroline Wingfield meets the buyers who got lucky Portraits by Martin Salter
Caroline Wingfield



"We only went once. I was supposed to be taking my two daughters Eppie (5) and India (2) to a swimming lesson but I thought: sod it! We were really in debt and we're really into art so instead I took them along to the exhibition. I said they could have a postcard each. India kept veering towards one postcard in particular and trying to pick it off the wall. As you can imagine the staff were getting a bit paranoid about it: there were no other children in there. I had a vague glance at it, wrote the number down and that was it really. It turned out to be the Damien Hirst severed finger (right). It's a red and black pen and ink drawing of a finger in a pool of blood. I suppose I was quite disturbed by the fact that she chose it, it's a strong image. I was just really surprised, and really pleased. We haven't mounted it yet, it's still down in the cellar. We were thinking of selling it because we haven't got much money. We had it valued at about pounds 900. I wouldn't sell it at that price, no way; we'll need to keep it for a few more years - it's not worth enough yet. But to be honest, I don't really want to sell it. What I'd like to do is pass it on to India as a legacy when she's 18. I want her to appreciate art: I think she does already!

I like it, yeah, of course I do, but I'd have liked it anyway, without knowing it was by him. I do generally like Hirst's art, I like the spots and the animals in formaldehyde; it makes you think about what they are, why he did it. It stimulates the brain and I like that aspect of it.

In a way, it has made me more interested in art. I work in a school and they've put me in the art department. That's partly because I used to be a lighting designer, but I get to look at lots of art books to get ideas; I help plan some work for some of the kids. The art tutors know we own the Hirst, but I haven't told anyone else.

I would like to go back to the exhibition, but I'd only go back to buy something I liked, I wouldn't go to gamble. I wouldn't deliberately go to try and get an artwork for nothing - I'd go to get a nice postcard. We were just lucky."



"I like the fact that it's affordable; you could get something by someone who is famous, or who might be famous in the future, and it could be worth a lot of money. I was working in the college shop and was there for the very first show. I particularly wanted to get a postcard by Bryan Kneale, who was professor of drawing at the time, so I went for his style. He's not the biggest name but he's a Royal Academician and his work sells for thousands of pounds, so to be able to buy a piece of his work for a relatively small amount of money was amazing. I think that's the wonderful thing about it. I used to queue but I find it a bit stressful actually. I think the earliest I went was 1am and it was freezing, there were no loos or anything.

There's that whole thing of: `Are there dealers here?' People get paranoid that not everyone is playing fair. You're standing there for hours talking about all sorts of stuff, but people don't want to divulge their numbers, just in case somebody in front of you buys what you want. It's all a bit cloak-and-dagger - it's a terribly serious business. I've bought an Elizabeth Blackadder, four John Bellanys and an Anna Maria Pacheco, which is gorgeous. I also have ones by various artists who aren't well known but they're just lovely pictures. It's so important to go for what you like. The nice thing is to wander, I always go and have a look, if there's anything I really fancy I might put myself out for it. But it's quite an investment in time and commitment, and there's the fact that you might not get it. One year I was disappointed, I didn't get all the numbers I wanted but then you have your back ups! It sounds crazy. I think my friends thought I was mad queuing for hours and getting so worked up about it. Now, having seen what I got, I think there's a bit of: `Oh I wish I'd done it, too'." f



"I've been up in the top ten of the queue pretty much every year. Before I set up camp I go to the White Cube Gallery, down Cork Street, and look on the internet to refresh my memory and see what the artists are up to. I'm not an expert, it's not residual knowledge, it's all crammed. I've been successful in that I've got what I've liked. I've got one Damien Hirst, which took me two guesses to get. That's the problem really: you have a limited number of choices, so do you risk it and go for the Hirst when he's notorious for being difficult to spot? I've gone for Cecil Rogers, Terry Frost (right), Ellie Howitt, Mary Fedden. I've just come out of university so for me it's a chance to acquire original art which I'd never be able to afford. Sometimes I buy limited-edition prints from the Serpentine. I'm interested in art and I paint oils and acrylics. I made a mistake the first couple of years, trying to go for the big names all the time - I guessed wrong or I was fooled by a current RCA student doing a good impression.

The atmosphere in the queue is really good, everyone's friendly, and we're like-minded in that we all appreciate art so there's common ground. We're quite reasonable too, you can go off for a few hours, do some shopping, get a bite to eat. You don't have to be there rigidly for the whole day; as long as you're there for the night. One year a couple from overseas put two chairs outside and went off to spend the night in a hotel. They were first but the regulars arrived and moved the chairs. If you're not going to stay the night then it's not on. I suppose there are rivalries. Sometimes number one and number two will declare which ones they're after because they know they'll get them. People lower down are always trying to get information. I can't be bothered with all of that so I just make up numbers and really confuse them all. This year I'm not going to do a single bit of research, and just go for what I like. Who knows - I might get a complete unknown who might be big in the future. If you're going to hang it up on the wall, you might as well like it and enjoy it."



"The first time I went was in about 1997 when I bought an Ellie Howitt. I'd seen it on the front page of a magazine and it caught my attention. After that I read all the articles about the RCA sale and decided I would go along, but get there early. I queued up for two nights. I didn't have a tent at the time so I camped in a deck chair.

I have had a couple of disappointments but I haven't sold any of my postcards and I never would. I have more than 20 in my collection. One of my successes was Mary Fedden's The Melon. I didn't know her at the time, but I liked the picture so much I bought it. I did some research afterwards and to my astonishment found she was very famous. I've been buying her postcards ever since and I now have four. She is definitely my favourite. I also have the last postcard submitted by Terry Frost.

One year I bought three Nick Parks and had my photograph taken for the newspaper. My boss saw me and was really surprised; he had no idea what I'd been doing - I'd just taken the time off as holiday. He said, `You're mad queuing up for 62 hours' - I think I must be. I've bought a small tent for myself this year. As soon as the door opens you'll find me right at the front of the queue. It's fun, as the day comes for queuing up I feel excited, it's a new challenge every year. Once I'm in the queue and the sale starts to get nearer I get a feeling of relief that the day is coming. The ambience is very good, the people are very friendly and we look after one another." f



"Various people have advised over the years to go for what you like, as opposed to going for the artist. If it isn't by them, it's disappointing because you haven't got what you thought you'd got - and is it worth looking at in its own right?

In the past a lot of my hobbies have been competitive. I found the proposition of the RCA show a challenge to what little knowledge I had, and I liked the possibility of a treasure hunt. 1999 was a big year: I was first in the queue. It's always a matter of guess-work: too early and you freeze for more nights than necessary, too late and you're not first. I did three days and two nights. I bought a Peter Howson and he's since become one of my favourites. In 2002 I got the Paula Rego: I was first in the queue again, but this time I went crazy. I thought I've got to do something that nobody else can beat, I'm going to get there first. I did eight days and nights. Although in the real depths of night you find cold coming up from below, generally speaking the air temperatures have been very kind. I'm not going to say how long I'll be camping out this year because there is this competitive situation, you don't want to give away your secrets. You need two things in your favour: a bit of understanding, so you can learn what to like, and a high position in the queue. The make- up of people definitely affects what activities they do, and that competitive urge is something that for good or ill I seem to have.

I spend a lot of time going round all the galleries and I take loads of newspaper clippings with me. It's a combination of my intense interest in the subject, which has lead me to study for an Open University degree in the arts, and knowledge for the forthcoming show. I got caught out one year by an artist who was doing very good impersonations of Terry Frost. I thought, `OK, you learn'. I was a bit put out because I wanted to own a Terry Frost like I wanted to own a Paula Rego. It's the connection you make with the artist. One thing I love about the exhibition is the young artists as they are still forming and changing."




"The first year was incredible, you could just go in and choose. It's extremely competitive now and I'm afraid queuing for a week is beyond me. I do go in after it's all calmed down and you can still find some really good artists. I've only ever bought what I really like, because if you're caught out what's the point? I don't look at it as an investment, it's only for my own personal collection. Working in the shop means I've got to know certain students' work and I've often bought them, not because they're worth anything, but because they're very good painters.

My two favourites are an Anna Maria Pacheco and Nicola Hicks. The most well-known one I've got is a John Bellany, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was my favourite. I have to admit I did buy that because I knew it was his and I thought it would be a nice thing to say you owned. I am still pleased with it, and it's a good talking point; people instantly recognise it because it's `woman with fish on head'.

Listening to conversations in the queue you can tell some people do go there to strike gold, but I'd like to think the excitement of getting something they really like would take over in the end. You don't have to be an art buyer, you don't have to have a lot of money. If you've got a good eye, whatever you buy, so long as you like it, is worth buying for pounds 35. It's cheaper than buying a print. I think it's the most amazing opportunity. I hope it makes people feel more comfortable about looking at and buying art."