Thursday, November 12, 2009

Big article in today's Times

There is a very interesting piece in todays Times. Click here for the article, full text reproduced below.

It’s the RCA Secret: a masterpiece for 40 quid
The Royal College of Art is offering 2,700 postcard-sized artworks for £40 each. Here we give a sneak preview

The art world isn’t known for its bargains. Even in a year when recession has dominated headlines, auction houses everywhere have been raking in the cash. This week at Christie’s Peter Doig’s Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like), sold for $10.2 million (almost £6 million). It’s not what you’d call affordable.

But there is one way of getting your hands on a piece by one of the biggest names in art, without robbing a bank. RCA Secret is an annual fundraising exhibition in aid of the Royal College of Art; this year it has 2,700 postcard-sized works donated by 1,016 artists and designers. Donors range from established artists such as Yoko Ono, Gerhard Richter, Bill Viola, David Bailey and designers Paul Smith and James Dyson, to up-and-coming RCA students. Each postcard is for sale at £40 — but until you’ve bought it, you won’t know the name of the artist. Will your £40 just buy a nice picture, or will you bag the biggest art bargain of the year?

Tomorrow, the RCA reveals all the postcards at the exhibition and online, before the big sale on November 21. Here though, we have a sneak preview. We asked some artists and art-lovers to take a look and give us their verdicts.

Grayson Perry, artist

I’ve put in a few postcards this year; I never try to disguise mine because it’s nice for people to be able to run in and grab them if they want one. I do the sketch I would have been doing at that moment, but I just do it on the postcard, so if I’ve got a project on the go, quite often the postcard shows things I might not bring to fruition until years later.

One of my early postcards had my idea for the fourth plinth on it. It was called God for a Day, and it was almost a version of what Antony Gormley eventually did. It was going to be a shrine, with people spending a day in it as God. I never got asked to submit so I never put it forward, but I did do a postcard of it. In my idea they would have been able to wear only the outfit I’d given them. I didn’t risk the charity T-shirt thing!

I particularly like the pink DayGlo petrol station. I think the abandoned petrol station is a lovely symbol of the modern age. There used to be ten petrol stations on my way to work and now there are two. This has that sort of Edward Hopper, road trip feeling, but there’s also something very Essex about this picture. The painter Jock McFadyen did a series of paintings of abandoned petrol stations along the A13.

The other one I like is the picture of the Queen. It’s so pedantically lame! It’s suburban and royal at the same time, which is very much what the Queen is like. It looks as if she’s wearing an M&S jumper underneath her robe.

The picture of Michael Jackson is quite challenging. It reminds me of a poster for an earnest amateur production of Cats. Michael Jackson is just beyond irony, the layers on him are just too much. If something is really so awful that you can talk about it in a lively way, then it’s not really awful. It’s those things that fall between — most bad art falls between lots of different things; it doesn’t have a strong character.

Paul Smith, fashion designer

The bright pink landscape with a shed is very painterly, and the landscape of London. I like paint, and things that are done by hand as opposed to computer generated. I like to see the brush strokes. I also like the still life of the pear and the butterfly. It reminds me of Mary Fedden, but that’s only a guess. I’ve been trying to identify who some of them might be by, the funny Biro drawing of the dog and the lady I think could be Paula Rego.

I don’t like the spooky ones, such as the flying skull, which I imagine is probably by the Chapman Brothers. That’s the sort of thing they do. And the boy in the cage reminds me of them too — I wouldn’t want either of those, except as an investment!

I’ve put a postcard or two in this year. I’ve done it for several years now, it would be nice to know where my cards have ended up. It’s a fun thing to do. You hear about people who’ve been queuing for two hours because they’ve been to the viewing and they think they’ve found a famous person’s card. They’re at prices people can afford, they’re not too precious and you’ve got the thrill or the disappointment — “Is it a Paula Rego?” “Oh! No.” Sometimes people take it all a bit too seriously though. Here, I’m surrounded by paintings, photography, books, toys, masses of stuff; some are quite precious and costly and others cost a few quid, but everything I bought just because I liked it. I’ve always thought you should just buy things because you love them.

The first piece of art I bought was in the early 1970s, when Hockney had his first solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. There was a limited edition print that went with it, and I just fell in love with it. My wife and I stood there and thought: “The gas bill, or the print?” And we went for the print. And a week later they came to switch the gas off. But that was my first entry into the world of art and we still enjoy it every day.

David Bailey, photographer

I chose my favourites very quickly. It’s so subjective, so I chose two which are both icons — the Queen of England and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. I like figurative art, I don’t like abstract. It looks like wallpaper. I don’t understand it. There are a few, such as Terry Frost, who make me laugh but Rothko leaves me pretty cold. But these two images tell you something immediately. You don’t need a poncey art education. Neither of them is cutting edge, but straight away you can like it.

I think you should like art. I don’t think you want to stick something on the wall that you don’t like. I never understand that. Then you get the obvious things such as Warhol, which is overattractive. You think: “Everyone likes that, it’s a sign I can afford a $20 million Marilyn Monroe.”

I do the RCA Secret show every year. Last year I put £40 on the picture, so at least whoever bought it got their money back. Every year I try to do a theme that’s different, but never photography. I was painting before I was a photographer. My postcards always go straight away, they’re never remaindered. It would be awful to find it in the Soho Bookshop or something.

John Squire, artist and former Stone Roses guitarist

My favourite is the pink scooter. It’s very simple and I trip over one regularly in my house. I’ve got three daughters who are practising hurtling round the kitchen. I like the drawing too. It’s the essence of a girlie scooter, everything’s in there, the tassels, the bell, the spokes — they do it for me.

I also like the boy in the cage. I knew exactly how he felt the day that the image arrived. But it’s actually not my second choice. That would be the Biro drawing of a woman, which I’ve been haunted by. Initially I just saw a quick blue Biro drawing then I realised that it was imbued with a great deal of menace.

I’ve donated a postcard about four times now. I think that the arts are undervalued in this country and if all it takes for me to generate money for the arts is to scribble a quick postcard then I’m happy to do it.

A. S. Byatt, novelist

I like the painting with the pear and the butterfly. It’s the right size for the postcard, and I like the way the colour is put on and the balance of the objects. I like the richness and simplicity of it. I do like still lifes, I prefer painting to photography almost always. I get more excited by seeing the movement of the hand, the colour on the surface, rather than thinking about somebody constructing it mechanically. I’m prejudiced really, I’m not offering a value judgment! I have a half idea that it might be by Eileen Cooper: she puts her colour on with a very assured, bold hand.

I’ve only identified one artist, I think, Paula Rego. It’s fairly easy, unless it’s an imitation — the one with a woman looking at a rabbit. It might be a dog but I think it’s Alice in Wonderland with the rabbit.

I can’t bear the thought of Michael Jackson, though I do think that’s rather a good picture. I don’t listen to music ever, so what I might like about him isn’t available to me! The Queen is awful. I know she’s meant to be awful but that doesn’t improve the situation.

My other favourite is the pink scooter. I like the way the wheels sit and the fact that it is pink. It’s a silly image of the predominance of pink around children the age of my grandchildren. I have a grandchild about to be born any minute who has inherited a great deal of very bright pink garments. My daughter is very busy buying things that aren’t pink. Someone once asked me to write an essay on the word “pink” because they’d noticed I used it a lot. I tend to be either repelled by or greatly attracted to things pink.

Your chance to jump the queue

All 2,700 postcards can be viewed online from 11am tomorrow at, and in an exhibition at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7, until Friday, Nov 20. They will stay online throughout the exhibition, and the sale will take place on Saturday, Nov 21, from 8am until 6pm. After the sale the names of the artists will be revealed alongside each card online.

There will be a raffle to be among the first 50 in the queue on the day of the sale. Tickets will be available at the exhibition until half an hour before closing each day. Visitors can buy up to ten tickets at £1 each. The first 50 will be notified the night before the sale. In addition, one Times+member will be allocated the 51st place in the queue — visit before 8pm on Thursday, Nov 19 to be in with a chance.

On the day of the sale the 50 raffle ticket winners and one Times+ member will be allowed in from 7am to 8am. The normal sale queue will enter at 8am. It’s advisable to get down to the RCA as early as you can but don’t worry if you can’t, there are always some cards left even in the afternoon. Last year, Yoko Ono’s card lingered until after lunch.

Our tip: Choose extra cards that you like in case your first choices have gone. Have at least 30 card numbers that you like — you never know what you’re going to get.


Anonymous said...

I'll be looking to camp overnight on the 20th (I'm not hoping to identify any famous artist's work, I merely need to be away by 9.30!). I've noted your FAQs but still wondered if you had a best guess as to when I would need to have my tent in the queue in order to get away relatively early on the Saturday morning? Also, how much space is there on the pavement? e.g. would a two-man pop-up tent be likely to fit (1.6m x 2.1 groundspace when up)?


Good website by the way.

Jules said...

Thank you for continuing to post these links on your blog :)

Jules said...

I forgot to ask earlier - other than the "official" RCA Events account on there - do you guys have a twitter account? I was planning on tweeting my account of the day this year, as well as doing an entry on my new blog...

Jules :)

pezlow said...

Thanks Jules. I don't plan to twitter from the queue as my mobile isn't really up to it!

And anonymous I think you can probably safely start queueing in the early evening on friday and still be out by 9.30am. There is enough space on the pavement for a small tent.

Tombola said...

Re: anonymous - we arrived at just before 3am last year and were done by approx. 9.30.

We've now moved away from London and won't be making the trip, but reading your blog again is getting me excited about it again!