Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Interview in Time Out London

Time out London seem to have persuaded some random punter to give them an interview about RCA secret. Luckily no photographs of our hapless interviewee were used!

This week (November 12-19) 2,500 artworks the size of a postcard go on display at the Royal College of Art. Some of the drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures are by RCA students who have yet to make their names, others are by established artists, illustrators and designers, this year including Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin, Peter Blake, Yoko Ono, Nick Park and Ron Arad. No matter who they're by, the price for each work in the RCA Secret sale is the same: £45. But the signature's on the back so you won't know for certain whose work you're buying until you've paid for it. The fundraiser, for the RCA's fine-art students, started in 1994, and it's grown in popularity each year. Some people even queue overnight. We asked one of them, Perry Hill, a great enthusiast who co-authors a blog on the event (http://rcasecret.blogspot.com/), to explain its appeal.

When did you first discover the RCA Secret sale?
'In 2000.I was browsing Time Out and looking for something to do at the weekend when I came across a listing for RCA Secret and thought it could be fun to go along and have a look.
I queued for the sale and bought two postcards including one by British abstract artist Richard Smith.I was totally bitten by the bug and have been every year since, and have queued overnight since 2001.'

Have you got a background in art?
'No, I've always enjoyed contemporary art but have no background in it.My day job is as a solicitor so contemporary art in generaland RCA Secret in particular offers a real opportunity to get involved in a completely different world.'

You're clearly a big fan. What's so special about the event?

'It's very accessible.There are no stuffy gallery staff looking down their noses at you.The saleis open to anyone who is prepared to queue.The fact that all the art is anonymous means that you are forced to put aside any preconceptions you may have.Fans generally buy the artwork they like - if it turns out to be by a well known artist, that is a bonus.'

It's not a matter of turning up on the sale day and hoping to stroll in and buy the artwork you fancy, is it? Talk us through the process.

'The cards are exhibited at the college from November 12.They're displayed in groups of 100 and all the cards are numbered.They are also online.You can wander round the exhibition and make a note of the numbers of the cards that you like.You also need to ensure that you have registered with the college before the sale day, which you can do in person or online.

The sale starts at 8am on Saturday November 20.It's very popular and there is a long queue by the time the doors open.Once at the front of the queue you're taken down to a room below the exhibition hall. There's a bank of tills and a computer screen which displays the numbers and tiny images of the cards. The sold cards are indicated on the screen. When you get to the front of the queue you read out the card numbers to the cashier. Don't worry if you haven't noted whether a particular card is still available - they'll tell you if it is not.

Once you have selected your cards you pay for them and take your collection slip up to the gallery. There a runner will get the cards for you and you can then check the back for the all-important name.'

How helpful is viewing online?
'It's always better to see the cards in the flesh, as a flat 2D image online can only give you a general idea.I've seen some cards online andthought they were photographs.It was only when I turned up and saw them in person thatI realised that, in fact, they were paintings.'

How early do you start to queue?

'I queue overnight but not everyone is that dedicated.The queue tends to swell rapidly from about 6am onwards so arriving before then is recommended, although I have known people to get the cards they wanted when they started queueing much later than that.The key is to make sure that you have a long list of cards you like so that you are not too disappointed if your first choices are all sold.'

What's the atmosphere like in the queue?
'I've never met such a friendly, yet diverse collection of people. I have made some very close friends through queueing each year.The excitement builds as you'd expect; it's like a social game of poker, with everyone wanting to talk about the postcards, the artists, what they like, but all holding their list of numbers close to their chest. Advice abounds, but people are conscious of those in the queue ahead of them.'

There's a raffle for the first 50 places in the queue. How does that work?

'Once you've registered for the sale you can buy up to 10 raffle tickets at £1 each. They're on sale at the college up until the afternoon of November 19. The college draw 50 winners and telephone them on Friday evening, generally between 6pm and 7pm. If you've won you are allowed to enter the sale before the queuers. I've never won the raffle but I believe you're assigned a position within the top 50 and assembled into order. You can then make your purchases having stolen a march on all those hardy queuers.'

Do most people buy a single card or the full allocation of four cards?
'Most people who have queued overnight will buy their full allocation but by no means everyone does.'

How about the big reveal when people turn their artworks over?

'It can be very exciting. I can recall still queueing at the sales desk and hearing shrieks of excitement upstairs when someone has got a card they really want. Last year I was lucky enough to find cards by Gerhard Richter and Grayson Perry and, somewhat embarrassingly, I recall falling to my knees, screaming out in joy and punching the air.I put it down to the lack of sleep the previous night!'

Do you think most people buy for themselves or in the hope of selling the works on at a profit?
'I'd say the majority of people buy for themselves. While the odd card has cropped up on the secondary market after the sale they are very few and far between. The sale has been running now for 16 years and in that time roughly 30,000 RCA secret cards have been produced. By my reckoning,and I do keep track, less than 200 have cropped up on eBay or at auction after the sale, a tiny percentage of the total number out there.'

Have you bought big names in past sales? Or do you simply buy work that appeals to you?
'I love contemporary art and the beauty of RCA Secret is that some of my favourite artists regularly contribute work to the sale. So it gives me an opportunity to try to buy original works from them that ordinarily I wouldn't be able to afford. I would never buy a card that I didn't like just because I thought it was by a famous artist. To me that would seem like pointless trophy hunting, and you run the risk of it not being by that artist in any event. In the past I have been lucky enough to get works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter, Grayson Perry, Olafur Eliasson, Mary Fedden and Nick Park amongst many others. But equally some of my favourite cards in my collection are by less well known but nevertheless talented artists. I also have a number of cards that were done by students at the college or other contributors I haven't been able to find out anything about. It doesn't detract from my admiration of the artwork.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I said over on the FB group, but I'll say it here too - nice one Perry! This is rather ace indeed :)