Sunday, November 26, 2006

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

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