Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The lure of the sale

What makes the RCA secret sale so special? Why do so many people queue for so long to buy these little pieces of art?

I’ve pondered this for a while now and come up with a list of reasons, see what you think

1. Variety

Not only is this the spice of life but also it truly means there is something for everyone at the RCA secret sale. If your thing is a pretty watercolour of flowers then there are cards for you. If conceptual art is more to your taste then again there is something that you will fall in love. Virtually all artistic styles and all contemporary genres are represented in the sale. Frankly if you can’t find something you like then you don’t like art.

2. The guessing game

A lot of people in the queue will protest that they don’t care who designed the card that they buy, they buy cards that they like. Of course you should buy what you like. But even if you do there is still that moment when you turn the card over and find out who did it. And I defy anyone not to have butterflies in their stomach when they are doing that. And if the card that you bought because you liked it turns out to be by a well known artist or celebrity then even better.

3. The research

One of the great things about RCA secret is that it introduces you to artists and styles that you may never have heard of. It’s so exciting to turn over the card, see a name that means nothing to you, to then go back and google and find out more about the artist and what he or she does. A few years ago my other half saw some cards she really liked at the sale. Unfortunately by the time I got to the front of the queue they had gone. But I found out the name of the artist who did them – Moira McNair – and then contacted her. In the end I ended up buying two pieces of art from her, and we still to this day we still occasionally exchange emails.

4. Friendship

A personal reason to me perhaps but through RCA secret I have met many people, all of whom are fascinating to talk to and many of whom have now become good friends. Very few of my other friends or work colleagues have any interest in contemporary art and so it is great to exchange emails and meet up with those who do.

5. Value

I did wonder about putting this in at all. But given that you cannot have a conversation with a non art lover without this thorny question coming up I suppose we have to address it. I don’t think that actually that many people do queue for the potential value of the pieces. I think this is for two reasons: firstly that very few of the cards are actually sold after the sale. There are a few that have come on to the secondary market but not many. The second reason is that I am not convinced that the cards have an enormous value. Sure there are the examples of the odd card that has done well in the secondary market – cards by Damien Hirst and Peter Doig in particular – but the majority make nothing like that. Even cards by well known artists rarely make £200 on ebay, and many have failed to sell at auction.

6. The college

Seriously I couldn’t think of a better venue for the sale. When you bear in mind the fact that the college are not a commercial organisation the way they run the sale is exemplary. The cards are now professionally photographed and on the website the day the sale opens (no mean feat given the number of them). The college are always a pleasure to deal with when attending the viewings. And then you have the sale date itself. Given the number of people who queue and the inevitable squabbles that break out in the queue you really have to take your hat off to the way in which the sale day is organised. Commercial galleries could learn a lot from the way that the college organises itself.

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