Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My RCA Secret 2009

This year the college announced some huge names had contributed to sale. I was very excited when I heard that names such as Gerhard Richter, John Baldessari and Bill Viola had donated. The sale has always been strong on contributors from these shores, but these international cards put the sale, in my opinion, on an even higher level.

So the weeks before the sale were spent researching last year's cards and this years contributors and posting updates on the blog of articles in the media about the sale, and other little titbits.

It ought to be noted that the art world lost some huge names this year, many of whom had regularly contributed to RCA Secret in the past including: Donald Hamilton-Fraser, Frederick Gore, Flavia Irwin and, most recently Christo's wife and partner Jeanne-Claude. May they all rest in peace.

Eventually Friday 13th November came round and the cards were released on the internet by the college promptly just before 11am. Due to being crazy busy at work I didn't get much chance to look at them properly until the weekend. I went down the exhibition on the Sunday and bought some raffle tickets and had my first look at the cards in person, whilst my two wonderful daughters made their own lists of the cards they wanted.

The weather for the week of the sale was horrendous. Some areas of the country were flooded and there was torrential rain in London on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I wasn't looking forward to a potential soaking on the Friday night.

As it was we were relatively lucky with the weather. I woke up on Friday and the skies were very grey and it was raining. I collected my stuff together and made my way to the college that morning. I arrived and shortly after installed my new pop-up tent, an early birthday present from my brother, and considerably easier to put up than my previous tent which was getting just a little frayed round the edges having endured a few years of battering on the streets of Kensington.

John had arrived about 40 minutes before me and was therefore directly ahead of me in the queue. A little while later Adam arrived and then after that the rest of our informal "crew" – Chris and Hugh. Mark, a friend and colleague from work, also joined our band of intrepid overnighters.

A happy morning was spent browsing the cards and refining choices. I never fail to be amazed that every time I look at the cards I spot a new one I feel I had never seen before. Lunch followed in Wagamamas followed by more browsing of the cards in the afternoon and chatting to people in queue. Plus a few work-related phone calls during the course of the day which were most off-putting.

Anyway the time came for us to be turfed out of the sale and we then spent the next hour clutching our phones hoping for that elusive phone call from the college. Gradually the phones started ringing. John got the call, as did his wife we later found out. Also news filtered down that various people higher up the queue had got the call. I don't wish to moan as I've always done well from the sale but I haven't ever got the call and would love to enjoy the raffle experience once!

We then had a couple of quick beers and a pizza. It was good to meet Cade at that stage after exchanging emails with him on quite a few occasions. Check out Cade's blog for some pictures of some of the amazing cards he has got over the years.

Anyway after a bit more chatting it was time to settle down for the night. I think because the weather was extremely mild I got more than usual amount of sleep, about 4 hours I think, although I apologise to my "next door neighbours" for snoring! There was some rain during the night but it was not nearly as bad as the previous two nights (or indeed the Saturday).

Anyway by around 4.45am I was awake and unable to go back to sleep for thinking about my list and making last minute adjustments and amendments. So I had a cup of hot chocolate, swiftly followed by a coffee to wake me up, listened to a bit of music on my daughter's iPod, borrowed for the night, and scratched away at my list.

The tent city started packing up early this year as it became apparent that by six in the morning the queue had completely double-backed on itself and was back in front of the college. You can imagine the chaos between those in the first part of the queue and those in the second part, so we packed up our stuff and moved up quickly to form the queue on the disabled ramp to the side of the college. This meant that the second part of the queue moved off quickly thus averting catastrophe.

Inevitably there were a couple of queue bargers who categorically refused to move until security came out and moved them on. Thanks to the security personnel at the college who handled these potentially difficult situations in a sensible and calm way. Thanks also to the college for keeping open, throughout the night, the toilets at the back entrance to the college. It made a huge difference to the people queuing and hopefully stopped some of the insanitary practices the college have rightfully complained about in the past.

The lucky raffle winners were in and out before us so I saw John coming out as he told me that he had scored 2 Grayson Perry cards and 2 cards by Mary Fedden. So well done him.

Finally it came to the time for us to go down to the room with the screens. I always find this a nerve racking experience to put it mildly. The room has two screens mounted which cycle through the cards that have been sold but frankly it is very difficult to cross off that many cards before you hit the front. You have to try and look round people's heads and the numbers cycle through very quickly.

I still don't understand why the college deal with all the raffle winners first before we are allowed down. Surely it would be better just to let the rest of the queue go down and go to the rear of the raffle winners? This would give us more time to cross off cards from our list and mean that the queues speed up. For the same reason can I suggest that the college consider mounting the same screen either just outside the college (if possible) or alternatively just as you get inside the doors?

In any event by the time I got to the front of the queue I had only had time to cross about 10 cards off my list. I started off reading out numbers to the very friendly lady behind the till – After a constant stream of "no, not available" I started getting a few numbers that were available. I actually changed my mind about one number that was available, deciding in the end to go for something else.

A tip at this stage. When you have your four numbers. Breathe. Relax. Go through them again and make sure there are no mistakes and that they are the numbers you want. After that there is no going back.

Anyway payment was made and off I went back upstairs and presented my invoice to a runner to get my cards. She called me over to the packing area, asked me to confirm my cards were the ones I wanted and then packed them away in envelopes. As she did so she asked me how long I had been queuing for. When I told her she said something along the lines of "I'm sure you will think it was worth it". That was my first hint that a might have got something a bit special.

I opened my envelopes and the first one I opened was a pretty drawing of a shoe. Not only has this been one of my daughters' favourite cards but I also had a sneaky feeling it might be by Grayson Perry, as there were plenty of frills on it and the bow was very expansive. So I was absolutely delighted when I turned it over to see that it was indeed by Grayson Perry. I let out a shriek of delight and punched the air.

The next card I opened was an abstract in oils. As soon as I had heard that Gerhard Richter was a contributor I spent a long time researching his work and trying to work out what he had done in the sale. I exchanged views with a few friends and then had my eureka moment one morning when I had woken up early with the kids and had gone through the cards on the internet systematically just trying to identify the Richters. But his work is diverse that I was by no means certain. I needed to buy a card that I liked and would be a proud addition to my collection even if it wasn't by Richter.

As you can imagine I was therefore delighted when I turned over my card and revealed that my research (and guesswork) had indeed paid off. I was now the proud owner of a Gerhard Richter abstract. I couldn't believe it. I sank to my knees, shouted out "yes" and punched the air. I couldn't stop shaking for at least 10 minutes afterwards.

I was also very pleased with my other two cards - abstracts by Carol Robertson, an artists I have long-admired, and another abstract by Pierce Casey. They will all be framed shortly.



The next few minutes passed in a haze of an interview and photographs with the independent, and chats with others about what they had got, the ones that got away etc.

All in all a fantastic and very special experience for me and one I will never forget. I know I am a bit obsessional about RCA secret but it gives me and others like me a chance to buy the art we love at a price we can afford. I love the whole event and am most grateful to the college and all the contributing artists for making it so special.


JMM said...

Pierce Casey! wow I would have sworn that was by Barbara Rae.

Perry that Richter card is a wonderful example of his work, absolutley well done. I remember you pointing it out to me mentioning you'd quite like to get some abstract art this year.

thatgirlontheside said...

Well done Perry - that's fantastic that you got them!

I didn't realise there was queue jumping happening... pretty sad to hear that, as I'm always under the impression that people in the line have a mutual respect for eachother - as we're all there for (hopefully) the same reason.

I understand the confusion too about the arrangement of the queue - where we were standing, people were walking towards the front of the line - and then coming back a few minutes later when they realised where the queue ended...

I'm considering camping next year, as my Boyf' (who joined me for the 1st time this year) loved it & has convinced me that setting up from Friday afternoon would be a good idea... so perhaps see you there? :)

Tombola said...

Great work Perry - I was feeling excited for you just reading that :)

pezlow said...

Yeah I thought it was Barbara Rae too but I still love the card anyway so I'm not too fussed.

Would be great to see you next year Jules.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Just found this blog, and delighted to see my work being discussed here and the positive comments! Especially as I am big fan of Barbara Rae also!

Exhibition happening in Jan at Barbara Stanley gallery if anyones interested :)

Pierce Casey

pezlow said...

Hey pierce - would love to come and see your show. Your card is at the framers at the moment!

westendmum said...

Well done!
I got a Baldessari in 2005 which has been languishing in a shoebox. I recently saw his retrospective at the Tate and have now shamefully mounted it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Pezlow,
Hope the framing worked out well and that you enjoyed the New Year!
Just letting you know about my upcoming exhibition entitled "Surrounded By Colour", it is going to begin this coming Wednesday- the 27th of January, with drinks being served from 6 to 8.30, the exhibition itself will continue on until the 22nd of Feb! the address is- The Barbara Stanley Gallery,
279 Upper Richmond Road, Putney London SW15 6SP
and more info is on the website-

hope to see you there!

pezlow said...

Thanks Pierce for the heads up. Will certainly try and make it along to the show. Pics of your framed piece on the blog :)