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.

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