Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bunny Coco's RCA Secret Experience

Here is the great write up of the sale on Bunny Coco blog, reproduced with the very kind permission of the writer. More accounts to follow.

Well. That was an experience.

I got to the RCA and followed the tent contingent around the block where it turned into the chair and sleeping-bag contingent which became the standing bundled-up crowd around the corner. I joined the end of the line, cracked open my flask of tea, cleared my head and took stock of the of insanity. It was like joining the bread line in communist Russia. Queuing for a really long time for a loaf of bread not knowing how stale the bread would be by the time you got to the front of the line. Of course any comparisons between this event and the grim real-life hardships of life in the USSR are purely coincidental and fabricated in my own head in order to kill a bit of time. Anyway. iPod on, hat pulled down, collar pulled up, I catted down in the Baltic conditions knowing little except that absolutely nothing else was going to happen for 2 hours.

Good lord the great British public are good at waiting. Queuing, obviously, but waiting, yes really very good too. Standing, a bit of polite chit-chat, occasionally shuffling from one foot to the other but mostly waiting in one place for a long time without breaking form. I would have liked to see some enterprising individual come along with a coffee cart, though. Seems like a wasted opportunity to me. Around 7am the tents were packed up and we moved forward about 100 yards which took us just around the corner from the entrance. And then we waited again. For an eternity. Did I mention it was utterly glacial and borderline hypothermia inducing? After having 2 hours to get to the core of ones bones, the cold was starting to be a concerning discomfort and I was in no way under-dressed either.

When the doors opened at 8am the line moved forward in increments of roughly 50 people every 20 minutes of so. It was around 9:30am when I finally got inside and another 30 minutes of wending our way downstairs before being in the room with the screens that tell you what was still available. Of course I had a few notable artists on my list but these were quickly scratched off, already sold.

I had no strategy for the day, just a list of numbers and the decision in advance to buy 4 cards because I think the sale is a fantastic idea. When my turn came I secured 3 cards in my top 40. Perhaps I should have stopped there. Up until that point I’d made choices purely on aesthetic and/or sentimental connections. But I was drunk on the possibilities and chose a final card off my reserve list uncertain of its provenance, not because I was in love with it but because I thought it might be one of Billy Childish’s. And it wasn’t.

More than anything else I hoped to come away with a piece of John Squire’s work. That remained #1 on my list but the ridiculous thing was after spending days looking at the cards I didn’t find anything I could identify as being his. So I had a blank #1. I thought I had been following his art closely enough over the years to be able to spot even a rogue piece of his work. But last night when the list of artists names were published with their cards it was obvious I never in a million years would have put John Squire and his cards together. They weren’t identifiable as being his. Am I wrong? I would have expected John Squire to put pen, pencil or paint to paper. It was a relief to discover these were nowhere near my radar and I hadn’t just missed them out of carelessness. Though disappointing to still be John Squire art-less.

There were 3 postcards on my list that I had put together stylistically but had no idea who they were by. I managed to get one of them, the one I was particularly charmed by for reasons I can’t articulate, it speaks to that mysterious place in me. Simon Mathers is the artist. I think he’s rad and want to know more about him. I would’ve loved to have had 2 of his pieces but I’m delighted about getting this one.

There. It’s snowing this morning. I’m glad it’s not yesterday.

Random thoughts:

* As we shared our shortlists I found that me and my neighbours in line had few favourites in common. Everyone likes something different. So, getting a piece of art you like is not out of the realm of possibility even if you don’t start queuing ridiculously early.
* Many of the high-profile artists had multiple pieces in the sale. Despite this, if you have your sights set on a Tracey Emin / Paula Rego / Anish Kapoor (respectfully, I thought his contribution was rather lame actually) / Quentin Blake / Grayson Perry / etc. you really do need to win a raffle ticket place to be one of the first 50 in line or your chance of getting one of those is greatly diminished if not vanished all together. The result is 50 randomly chosen people jumping the queue and I’m not sure how I feel about that, but at least the raffle ticket system prevents art dealers and profit-lovers from pitching tents in September in order to buy up all the big names. There go the art dealers ruining everything again.
* I wonder how many of the raffle ticket holders bought work that wasn’t by a higher profile artist?
* Following on from the chances scuppered by the 50 raffle ticket holders, I’m not even sure pitching a tent in advance would definitely help you if all you want is a big name.
* Buy what you’re attracted to, what you’d want hanging on your wall. Taking a punt on something for no other reason than you think might be by a notable artist will likely lead to disappointment. If there was one entry strategy for the sale, that would be it.
* If seems too good to be true it probably is.
* The mania of the people who took it all very seriously was incredibly tedious after several hours of standing within earshot of them. Their ambition was a total buzz kill.
* Wear / carry twice as many layers as you think you’ll need. Pack snacks.
* I highly recommend taking part, even once.
* The people running the Secret sale do a wonderful job of making it a pleasing and uncomplicated experience. But can I suggest a website with the option to view enlarged images in succession, and perhaps the ability to sort ones favourites?

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