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.