Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another article in the independent

Here is the text of an article that appears in Today's independent. Click here to read it on the site, and look at some more pics.

Can you keep a secret?

As wheelers and dealers chase signature art works at the RCA Secret Postcard sale this week, Annie Deakin spills the beans on why buying blind is the way forward

Thursday, 13 November 2008
RCA Secret Postcard Sale

There is little more seductive than a secret. Tomorrow, a long-suffering queue of eagle-eyed art enthusiasts will snake around the Royal College of Art for the 15th Secret Postcard exhibition and charity sale. Ardent punters will be fighting to buy pictures without knowing who created them.

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Confidentiality is enticing. For just £40, you can purchase your very own signed, limited edition artwork from a famous painter, illustrator, designer or student. It isn’t until the postcard is purchased that the buyer sees the signature on the reverse and discovers who created their artwork. Amongst the artists and designers who have contributed 2,700 postcards are Tracey Emin, Yoko Ono, Paula Rego, David Bailey, Manolo Blahnik, James Dyson and Paul Smith. Many others will be by amateur students.

The concept of buying design without knowing the creator is appealing. Our judgment is more laudable without being biased to a designer’s reputation and being brainwashed by publicity.

It would be more interesting (and candid) to judge products prior to knowing their label. For example, I wonder if the hot seat of the season, fashion designer Orla Kiely’s Cork Easy chair would get half the publicity was it not upholstered in her trademark handbag prints.

Every year, I’m tempted to snaffle a £40 "secret postcard" charmed by the affordability and the sense of buying design without discerning its origin. For it to be worth zillions would be an added bonus - four years ago, one postcard by Hirst was auctioned at Sotheby’s for £15,600 - but extraneous to riches, nameless design is inherently appealing.

There is a magic about buying design from the bottom of your heart, untainted by commercialism of the intellectual prattle or critics. TV presenter Michael Parkinson encapsulates, "I’ve always been interested in art without really knowing what I was doing."

Discovering an unknown designer is akin to finding out about a secret. Just as when a friend spills the beans on gossip, it’s exhilarating learning about the unknown. The art world isn’t all that different to the design industry. Just as Charles Saatchi can catapult an unfamiliar artist into stardom, a big retailer propels unidentified designers into the mainstream.

Every year, for the Eureka Design Awards, six or so British companies are matched to fledgling designers who wouldn’t have otherwise encountered each other. The result is innovative merchandise sold in stores like Paul Smith, The Conran Shop and John Lewis. From being underground, undiscovered designers, they instantaneously become all the rage - and ones to watch.

Last month, I met this year’s Eureka Design winner Miranda Watkins who created the gleam pewter collection for AR Wentworth. Since the award, Watkins features in every magazine I open - Wallpaper, House and Garden, Homes and Gardens, Living Etc, Grand Designs, Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, Stella, Financial Times, The Observer Magazine? The secret is out. Almost overnight, Watkins became the most sought after designer in town - and the name to know. Were she to doodle over a RCA postcard, it could be worth a small fortune.

The Japanese/ British designer Reiko Kaneko, previously an industry secret, is the name on everyone’s lips this November. Kaneko’s surreal drip candlesticks and fighting soldier egg cups are popular but her real coup has been her fine bone china Christmas baubles which feature the reflection of reindeers, cats or dogs. Tipped to be a bestseller, her playful baubles, available on, will adorn the hippest Christmas trees. No longer an almost covert operation, Kaneko’s products have besieged the high street.

This week’s RCA Secret sale allows the hoi polloi to afford original art and lets them buy into the dream of owning a masterpiece. But it also reminds us that design should be taken at face value and not as a result of the signature on the reverse. Professor Glynn Williams, Head of Fine Art at the RCA said of the sale, "It’s one of the most democratic art sales in the world - everyone has an equal chance of getting a big name."

A tiny handful of those who snap up a £40 RCA postcard this week may luck out and profit financially from their purchase. But ultimately this sale is a lottery - you may make a quick buck by acquiring celebrity art or discovering a new artist’s work. The fun is on singling out authentic designs without the advice of critics and the prior knowledge of the artist’s identity. Design ignorance is bliss.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I disagree with most of that article.

It demonstrates a contempt of the breadth of art by limiting appreciation to the bedrocks of design i.e. construction and aesthetic. This author leaves no room to appreciate the contemporary, the conceptual nature of many of the artworks on display at the RCA secret.

With Contemporary art the value/beauty is only apparent in conjunction with an artist statement.

From the article " should be taken at face value and not as a result of the signature on the reverse"

What a silly comment, the RCA Secret is about Art, not Design.

For instance should Tracey Emin be respected solely on her drawing ability?

Would someone willingly pay £40 for a biro scribble of a naked woman, based on design aesthetics? Unsuprisingly the Tracey Emin cards are sold early every year. Based on the article, these should never be sold.

So, I will agree that you can buy something you like the 'look of' if thats what you are after.

But for those that like to (and are able to) look beyond the work and rather contemplate the concept, the RCA Secret offers a true treasure trove to be discovered.

I think the author should stay in her Orla Kiely cork chair rather than visit the Gulbenkian gallery of the RCA, She hasnt once in the article understood the differnces between buying art and buying design, and as such it appears to me that she's out of her depth.