Monday, December 31, 2007

Marianne's Secret 2007 story

First of all a very merry new year to you all. 2007 was a great year, let's hope 2008 is even better.

We finish the year with an account of Marianne's 2007 RCA secret experience. You may recall that I published Marianne's 2005 experience. For a trip down memory lane click here to read that. Anyway on with Marianne's story.


2007 was my third year of RCA Secret. The first time I went, I was alone, having seen an article about it in Metro. I had no idea what to expect, and a list consisting of just two postcards. Looking back, I was incredibly naïve to think that I would actually get one of them. I was, however, quite canny about queuing, and ended up about place 100, and since this was the last year before the raffle, and I refuse to stay up all night, that was probably as good as it'll ever get for me. Incredibly, I got one of my two cards (a fantastic watercolour of a bear). And so I was hooked.

Last year I persuaded several friends to come along with me, and all of them got at least some of their top postcards, but the rain was so terrible that I think it put them off the whole experience. This year my good friend A came – she'd been to the exhibitions before, and I'd bought her a card she'd liked last year as a Christmas present. When you bring a friend, while it makes the queuing a lot more fun, you do worry like mad in case they don't get their card.

Last year I'd made a list of about 20, and when they had all gone by the time I got to the desk, I went for a card that was down as a "maybe" in an earlier list I'd made. This, I think now, was a mistake. I do like it, (RCA fans may remember it, it was called The Flying Mermaid) but no one else does much, and it really doesn't go with anything else I've got up. I've got it framed up, but ours is a small flat, so it will have to wait until I move somewhere bigger to find a spot. So this year I went in thinking, above all else, I wanted something I was really happy with, and could hang in the sitting room with general approval. No more "maybes". I was buying a "yes" or I wasn't buying at all. Which meant resigning myself to there being a strong chance I'd get up at 4am, queue for five hours and come away with nothing.

So I went round and round and round that exhibition, and then the internet site, checking and double checking that I'd seen and considered everything, until I'd made a list of about 40. But even then, I only really liked the top 15 or so, and really loved the top six or seven. Which were, in case you're interested, 1816, 799, 926, 531, 545, 1841.

All dogs.

Most of my top 40 were dogs, in fact. Dogs, and then when we got down a bit on the list, wistful looking women started making appearances. I have embarrassingly mainstream tastes. More of which later.

To defend myself a little, I think I like a certain type of art, expressive, affectionate and soft. I don't want to hang anything satirical, or rude, or that has one big obvious joke. And people who paint dogs are probably going to like dogs (at least enough to spend a couple of hours staring at one) and so are likely to paint/ draw their subjects with affection.

I spotted a few that I was almost certain were by big name artists, but I'm no expert, and I knew the chances were that if they were still left in when I got there, then they wouldn't be the names I'd hoped for. And, to be honest, I didn't especially like any of them. The cards on my list were cards that I knew I loved, and, crucially, that I thought I had a realistic chance of getting.

So I arrived on the day with A, a bottle of brandy and two hot water bottles and prepared to wait. We were 150 in the queue (not including the raffle winners). Am I the only person to have found this year particularly freezing? We had a bad moment when we couldn't get the lid off our brandy, but a girl next to us came to the rescue with a pair of tweezers. Which I fear I may have ruined. And she didn't even want any!

A had a scarily short list of cards she wanted, I think maybe 6, but was in good sprits, saying she was here as much for the experience as anything else. Me, I wanted my card.

When we finally got into The Room With The Screens things got excruciatingly tense. Every card on my list had gone – every single one – except my number 4 choice, 531. Number 4 was higher on my list than I'd possibly hoped, but with about 50 people still ahead of me buying, and each with an allocation of 4 cards, it seemed unlikely I'd get it. Especially since my number 3 was of the same dog by the same artist, and had already gone. And that dogs were clearly very popular. A was down to only two of her six, one of which was her number one choice, and so we had half an hour of agony, inching forwards, watching those screens flick round and round and round, willing our numbers to stay green.

Just before we got to the top, A's number one went (literally as she was stepping up to the till). But she still got her number 2, 1717 (pictured left). And – success! I got 531 (pictured top). We danced a small jig into the gallery, picked up our cards, and then went weakly off in search of cups of tea.

Now I'm at home, I love my card more than ever. I like the character of my dog, the way his leg is folded, the serenity of his expression against the strong yellow background. And I love the card even more now that it is imbued with all the triumph of bagging it against the odds. I googled my artist, Vanilla Beer, and I think I can say I have found someone whose work I will definitely follow, and almost certainly buy in the future. (And, as an aside, the Saatchi website is a boon when you're looking up RCA artists, isn't it?) I don't think my postcard is worth very much financially, but it is worth an awful lot to me.

There was a lot of talk on the BBC message boards about what suckers we all are, to be buying art and gambling on getting big names. But I really don't think that's the point of the exhibition – except for a few lucky raffle winners, and people who really know what they're doing. For most of us, it is a chance to buy art without no considerations apart for the image itself. We are buying art in its purest form. And with all the hype and posturing that so often accompanies modern art, I think that's something to treasure.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Adam's RCA secret story

Here is Adam's account of his RCA Secret experiences. Thank you to adam for sharing.


The 2007 RCA Secret exhibition was the seventh in eight years at which I have bought cards. People who have known me during most of that period accept it as part of my character that I go to some art ‘thing’ around the end of November. Many ask me to remind them the next time it’s on so that they can come and have a stab at getting the Hirst and making a mint when they sell it. When I do remind them the next year, their reactions are always the same: mild dis-interest for a few seconds followed by total loss of interest.


I like it that way. I am not interested in buying art (or the RCA Secret cards specifically) for the chance of making a quick buck. Very few of those I have met in the last eight years have had that as their motivation. Yes, many people do try to spot the Hirst, the Emin or the Opie. I do too and sometimes succeed. But if I don’t like them as a work, they don’t go on my list. I buy what I like. I still have all 25 cards that I have bought and only one of them isn’t on show. Not because I don’t like it; rather because I don’t have a frame for it – it being three dimensional and not easy to frame.

The first year I bought was 2000. I’d seen something about the show in 1999 and it appealed to me as an idea. The chance to get original art at, what I then thought and still think are, reasonable prices seemed a good thing. When the 2000 exhibition came about, I trailed over to the RCA and had a look at the pictures. Liking some, I made a wish list of about 15 cards and registered as a buyer.

I lived in North London then. So I got up in time to get an early tube to South Kensington and get to the gallery before the sale started. When I turned up, there was a rather long queue trailing down the street and round the corner. ‘Oh’ thought I. ‘This is popular’. The lady ahead of me in the queue asked me if I minded keeping her place as she had a list of one card and wanted to find out if anyone ahead of us was interested in buying it, too. Three people were. So she went home. My list of 15 was decimated by the time I got to the desk. But I still came away with three cards I liked then and like today.

In 2001, I missed the start of the sale, but went in the afternoon and came away with two cards. I correctly ‘spotted’ another card by a ‘someone’ still on the wall when there. Didn’t like it… didn’t buy it… don’t regret it one bit.

2002, ’03 and ’04 went by and I came away each year with cards I really like and a few I really love. In 2003 (I think) I came away with my first Candra Cassini: A picture of a smiling child wearing a blue hat and velvet jacket. The detail in that 10x15 cm piece of card impresses me to this day. I was amazed that it was still available when I got to the desk. Those infront of me had preferred other pictures. That we all like different things became apparent to me at that point. Everyone worries that everyone else wants what they want. It really isn’t the case.

The other thing that became apparent to me was that it’s cold outside in November. Although I had ski-wear on, I was, to say the least, a bit chilly when the doors opened for the sale. The person standing behind me must have been even colder as he’d turned up in his ripped jeans, a shirt and a blazer.

I made a mistake in 2005 and booked a trip to Toronto to see my favourite Ice Hockey team (The Montreal Canadiens) play against Toronto. Foolishly I didn’t think ahead and, on the day the RCA sale started, was in a Hotel on Younge Street. I took a photo out of the window at about the time the sale started. That is my work of art from that year… Both vices catered for in one go.

I moved out of London in 2005. So turning up as early as trains allow on the morning of the sale is no longer viable (as I’d probably get there to find everything has gone). The last two years found me waiting outside through the night. 2006 was very, very damp. Cats and dogs were afraid to go out for fear of being hit by falling cars and logs (it was windy, too). This year was COLD!!! (I was told that it was the first day this year that the temperature dropped to zero). I saw a snowman standing over a heating grille by the Albert Hall. It could have been a hallucination brought on by the cold. But, if not, he was warmer than those of us on the other side of the street.

In the morning, the lucky (and warmer) first fifty turned up, stood around for a bit and then disappeared into the building. I was envious of most, though pleased for some. Next it was our turn to go through the doors, down the stairs and finally up to a desk… My frozen brain now having to work overtime to work out what had disappeared from my list and what I still had a chance of getting. My frozen jaw then had to move to pronounce the numbers I wanted. Brain and jaw obviously did a good job as I came away pleased with my lot. I managed to buy the first picture on my list, the fifth, eighth and another in the teens. Not bad from a list of 60 pictures when some 70 people had gone before me (with the opportunity to buy 280 cards).

By the way, the first picture was my third Candra Cassini: a picture of General Custer (which goes very well with the picture of Sitting Bull from last year).

Though I don’t do this primarily out of charity, out of which the whole event arose, that is another good reason to freeze myself, get soaked to the skin or blown inside out overnight once a year. I enjoy it all. If in doubt, try it. You might, too.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hirst postcards under the hammer

Two RCA secret postcards by Damien Hirst come under the hammer at sothebys on 12 December in a contemporary art sale. Both have an estimate of £3000 to £4000. One is the pair of glasses pictured. The other is a card of a dog from the 2004 sale.