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.