Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My RCA Secret 2011

Another year, my 12th doing RCA secret. Time really has flown, I certainly remember my first year and the excitement of queuing for a few hours only to find that all the cards on my list had gone, resolving that that would never happen again.
The build up to the sale was perhaps a bit quieter than previous years. In the week leading up to the sale relatively little information had been released about contributors to the sale and, it transpired, that some of the information in the guardian was wrong.

Nevertheless excitement built as the sale got nearer and nearer. When the college first started doing the sale 18 years ago only the nerdiest people would have been on the internet. Now you have all the cards online straight away, you have the college and this blog on facebook and twitter and you have the tools to research your favourite artists at the click of a button. It certainly makes it more of a challenge.

The relative lack of some of the high profile contributors didn't seem to deter the RCA public both on the viewing days and on sale days. Whilst the press tend to concentrate on the big names I'm not sure that is why most people come and buy at RCA secret.

Anyway I went along to the viewing on Sunday with the family and we all bought raffle tickets and some of the new RCA merchandise and spent a good couple of hours looking at the cards. As usual they always look far better in the flesh and by that stage we had spotted a few good uns.

As usual the next few days were spent reviewing the cards and refining lists. Then Friday came and, as usual I packed myself off to the college in the morning to find that usual crowd steadily arriving (or there already – Adam chose to queue for 2 night this year!).

Mark turned up just after me then John (with his stinking hangover) a couple of people further back and Hugh just behind him. The day was spent trading hints, tips and speculation. Isn't that card nice? What an earth do you that card is all about? Do you the artist who painted that card also did this one? Etc etc.

Chucking out time came and six and on to the, not so cold, streets. An anxious few minutes as the raffle was drawn then I got successive texts from my other half to say that both my daughter and she had won the raffle. Happy Days!

A couple of swift ones and a pizza later and then it was settle down for the night and try to sleep. I would have got more had there not been a large group of drunken lads right outside our tents (and nothing to do with the queue) who thought it was hilarious to make as much noise as possible for as long as possible. I think they thought we were protesters "Occupy RCA". Anyway once they realised that no-one would rise to the bait they eventually left.

2 hours later – 4am in the morning and I'm wide awake, unable to sleep. I watched a bit of a film – Closer with Jude Law and Julia Roberts – not a bad movie - and then heard that Mark was up so went to chat to him, counting down the hours.

Eventually the time came to pack away the tents, the raffle winners arrived and we had a nervous hour waiting to go in. First raffle winner out announced with glee that he had 2 Emins, a Perry and the Yoko Ono card – cross those off the list. By the time I got in though I didn't know what the family had picked up.

By the time I got to the room with the screens my list was decimated. Whether they were cards by my favourite artists or my favourite cards most were gone. By the time I got to the front of the queue I was halfway down page two of my list.

But I still got some lovely cards. I won't repeat all of our haul but highlights include:

The Grayson Perry Tiger. I love love love this card. In my opinion the best card he has ever done for RCA secret (and he's done some beauties), so I was chuffed to hear the family had acquired that.

My daughter Carys' favourite – a lovely card by Katia Lom.

My other Daughter's favourite – a card of a beaver driving a tractor by Nick Park.

Our favourite card in the exhibition – a great painting by Freya Douglas-Morris, a student at the college.

One of Graham Crowley's cards, a perennial favourite of all the family.

A fantastic painting by Nicholas Middleton – yes it is a painting although it looks like a photograph.

Both paintings submitted by Elinor Evans – 2 lovely studies of her cats Whiskey and Coke.

So some lovely cards. It was once again a great year and I will see you all again at RCA Secret 2012.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Article in Independent

And here is an article in the independent on sunday.

 They say you must suffer for your art. Usually this applies to the artists, not the buyers. Yet more than 1,300 art lovers braved the cold for hours in London yesterday morning to queue for the chance to snap up affordable original artwork at the Royal College of Art's Secret postcard sale.

Some had camped out for days by the RCA, opposite the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington, lured by the opportunity to purchase a small work by the likes of Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, the animator Nick Park, the photographer David Bailey or the fashion designer Manolo Blahnik for just £45. The Independent on Sunday joined the queue for a cultural bargain.

The "secret" to the annual sale is that buyers do not know which of the 1,119 artists involved – who include RCA students – has created each of the 2,900 postcards, displayed anonymously and signed on the reverse, until after they have handed over their cash. However, the postcards had been on display for a week beforehand, giving punters the chance to make an educated guess.

The first buyer through the door, one of 50 people who won advanced entry to the sale through a raffle, seemed to know what he was buying. James Pardey, 43, a seasoned sale visitor from Putney, London, peeled off the blue sticker on the envelope housing his postcards to inspect his first purchase. With shaking hands, he revealed a series of green and red squiggles on a white background.

"I think that's the Yoko [Ono]," said the graphic designer, who had also camped outside the exhibition since Thursday in case he had not won in the raffle. He nervously turned over the card to reveal he was right. "That was my number one choice and I am hugely pleased about it." His other three selections were two pencil drawings by Emin and a Perry portrait in coloured pen: not bad for £180.

"For me this is all about owning great art," he said. "I don't know how much they would be worth but to me they are priceless. I wouldn't consider selling them. I knew what I was looking for but you can never be certain."

The college hopes to raise more than £130,000 from the sale, now in its 18th year, to help support art students with grants and bursaries.

Those in the queue outside who had not succeeded in the raffle had made varying sacrifices for their art. Michael Tregear, 63, of London, the house manager at Armoury House, which hosts corporate events at the Honourable Artillery Company, had camped since Sunday to secure his spot as second in the queue and had only left his tent during the day to go to work.

Helen Rudeforth, 47, a deputy headteacher from Hampton in Arden, the West Midlands, was a first-timer working her way through the Time Out book 1000 Things to do in London: the RCA sale is number 63. But the experience was making the amateur French horn player late for a practice session with her wind octet in Banbury. "It's touch and go," she said. "A bit of a knife edge round here." But it was worth being late as, after a four-hour wait, she rushed off to catch her train clutching four brightly coloured artworks. 

Take a chance in the postcard lottery
The Independent on Sunday's 'secret' purchase was a vibrant postcard by the established abstract landscape painter Cecilia Vargas, who studied at the RCA at the same time as Tracey Emin. For your chance to win this artwork, email your name, address and phone number to by midday on Friday 2 December.

Publicity this morning

Plenty of good publicity this morning for the sale.

We will start with a piece in the telegraph here and repeated below.

Having camped outside in the bitter cold since Monday, yesterday morning Stefan Bader and Ian Zanardelli were at the front of a queue of hundreds of people snaking 600 yards around the streets of London outside the Royal College of Art (RCA).
At 7am, the RCA opened its doors for the annual Secret Sale, a shopping spree of guess work where avid collectors and first-time buyers pay for postcard-sized works of art before discovering the identity of the artist.
For £45, those who queued could walk away with original works by Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Anish Kapoor,Yoko Ono - or by an artist nobody has ever heard of. it is something of a combination of art detective work and lottery.
"It has been pretty cold, but we Brits like a queue," said Mr Zanardelli, a first-time buyer at the sale. "I don't really care what I get - I'll be very happy with something that looks nice and I am looking forward to the surprise."
Mr Bader, 31, a project manager from Germany, has been travelling to London from Dusseldorf for the last six years, and has previously got lucky with works by Tracey Emin.
Yesterday, after paying for four postcards, the maximum for each buyer, he got exactly what he wanted.
Among his haul were a picture of a Red Indian chief by Candra Cassini, one of his favourite artists, and works by the Japanese artist Tomoko Nishimura, Dhruva Mistry, an eminent Indian artist and Royal Academician and the lesser-known Gales Sofer.

"I had my eye on these so I'm thrilled they hadn't sold yet," he said.

Mr Zanardelli, 31, a student from London, was also delighted with his buys, including a portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh by Cassini entitled His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, extremely dashing at ninety years of age and a racier nude painting by the leading Welsh artist Roger Cecil.

"It was a bit of a punt and I had no idea what I was getting, but I'm really pleased," he said. "Prince Philip is pretty colourful - I think I might put him in my kitchen or bathroom."

Second through the doors was David Moore, 31, a solicitor from London, who had been despatched on behalf of his wife.

It was Mr Moore's fifth, and most successful visit to the sale to date.

After studying the unnamed postcards on the walls of the RCA earlier in the week, Mr Moore thought he recognised the signature style of some big names, and bought a £1 "lucky 50" raffle ticket in the hope of being one of the prospective buyers drawn from a hat on Friday night to be among the first 50 through the doors.
His gamble paid off, and Mr Moore selected two nude drawings by Emin and a sketch of an elaborately decorated motorbike by Perry.

The real Kenilworth AM1 motorbike, designed by Perry, is currently on display at the British Museum.
Mr Moore's beaming smile said it all. "My wife will be delighted, I'm so happy," he said. At £45 each, his Emin postcards are likely to prove a sound investment.

"Three years ago, a postcard donated by Emin for the RCA sale sold at auction for £16,000.

Also among the "lucky 50" ticket holders and quick through the doors were Elodie and Carys Hill, who came with their parents in search of pictures to brighten up their bedrooms in Camberwell, south London.
Elodie, nine, appeared delighted with her two postcards - a beaver driving a tractor by Nick Park, the filmmaker behind Wallace and Gromit and a smiling tiger by Perry.

"I wanted them because they are very interesting and colourful," she said, before confessing she had not heard of the artists. Carys declared herself "very happy" with a postcard of a pig against a gold background by the artist and choreographer, Katia Lom.

Sam Lane, 27, an English teacher from Bromley, south east London could not contain his disappointment when he finally made it through the doors at 8.30am, only to find that the works he wanted had been sold.
"This is my fourth year here and I queued since lunch time on Friday, sleeping in a tent last night," he said.
"I had my eye on a couple of Grayson Perrys, but there was a horrible moment earlier when I asked if they were still available and was told they were all gone."

Mr Lane still managed to pick up a "name" - discovering his postcard was by the designer Sir James Dyson.
For Lucy Mitchell, the cold queue outside from 6am had been worth it.

Mrs Mitchell, 39, a marketing director from Northwood, Middx and avid collector, bought two works by Anthony Frost, a leading abstract artist, and a postcard by Graham Crowley, the former head of painting at the RCA.

She said: "It was pot luck but I couldn't be happier."

It is hoped the sale will raise more than £130,000 to support art students with grants and bursaries.

BBC radio London interview

Those who were at the sale yesterday will have missed the interviews on BBC Radio London.  You can listen to it on BBC Iplayer by clicking here.

The interviews are roughly at:

1:18:32 (includes interview with queue regular Adam!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

College to open Gallery at 1pm

For anyone contemplating a trip to RCA secret this afternoon the gallery will re-open from 1pm so you can view the cards before you go down to purchase them.  There's sure to be a few cards left by well known artists, the college tweeted that Anish Kapoor's contribution is still in the wind.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Good luck all

I'll be off to join the queue at some point tomorrow.  So good luck all.  Hope you get the cards you want.  Follow the blog on twitter.  I'm sure I will be tweeting occasionally from the queue.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

That's my card

There are 2900 cards to choose from yet you have alighted on one.  It is your favourite card, the one that speaks to you, the one that you could stare at for hours and hours, maybe because it is just so beautiful or maybe because it intrigues you, or makes you laugh, or repulses you.  Whatever way you look at it that card becomes your favourite card.

Then a change happens.  The card is no longer your favourite card it becomes “my card”.  You want to own it, you want it to be yours, in fact you are already thinking in your mind that it is yours because you know it will be for sale at the end of the week’s viewing so why shouldn’t it be yours.

Herein lies the problem.  You begin to fret, you begin to worry.  “If I like this card so much then surely everyone else likes the card just as much as me”. 

When you see the cards in the flesh your card seems to be lit up like a beacon with flashing lights round it.  There may be 100 cards on each wall but your card could be the only one.  Surely everyone else will see the merit, will understand what you have seen in the card?  You almost want to cover up the card, to hack into the website and delete the card so that no-one else sees it.  At the exhibition you keep returning to your card to check it’s still there, to make sure you’ve got the number right, to see whether anyone else appreciates its merit.

So if other people like it just as much as you then they will buy it and you won’t get it.  So the only solution is to try and win the raffle.  What if you don’t win the raffle? Well then you will have to queue for as long as possible to maximise your chances of getting your card.

So that’s what you do.  You queue.  You queue for an obscene, ridiculous time that in no way reflects the realistic material value of the card.  Friends and family think you are insane, certifiable, for queuing that long for a postcard.

You keep your love of the card furtively secret to those around you in the queue.  You may discuss with them cards that you like, artists that you admire but you keep your card very close to your chest.  If someone else mentions your card, even in passing, you have heart palpitations thinking they might buy it before you. 

And then you get into the room with the tills and this is your first chance to see whether your card is sold.  If it is, heartbreak.  If it isn’t then panic – there are still 50 people ahead of you yet to buy.  That’s 200 cards.  Surely they must all be after the same card that you are after.  Sometimes your card is sold, again heartbreak, disappointment, frustration.  Maybe just maybe it isn’t sold, it’s yours.  You are the king.  You have brought your queen home.  She will be lovingly framed and displayed at home and every time you look at that card you will be reminded of the hours of effort you put in to get her.  That card and you will always have a shared history, a tale of your own small human endeavour.

Leading up to the sale a few words of encouragement.  People do not have the same taste as you.  I guarantee that.  Your favourite card will not be the same as other people’s favourites.  Just as you will be religiously protecting the identity of your card they will have a different card that speaks to them in just the same way as your card speaks to you. 

Secondly even if you miss out don’t panic.  You can find out from the rca website which artist was responsible for your card.  Contact them, tell them your story.  I’m sure they will be delighted to hear from you - who doesn’t like to hear that their work is appreciated.  And maybe you will be able to buy a work from them or their gallery that you love equally as much.  It may not be “your card”, it may not have the history of endeavour that “your card” has but you will still look at it on the wall and be reminded of the year that you queued for “your card”.

So what is “my card” for this year, well that would be telling wouldn’t it.  And I’m not ready to share that yet, even with you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

RCA Secret & artist gender: some stats

Here is an interesting article originally posted on Lisa Gee's blog on the gender of the artists of cards bought by RCA secret buyers.

One of the things that fascinates me about the RCA Secret exhibition & sale is that it’s possibly the nearest thing we have to a gender-blind art event. Given UK Feminista’s 2010 figures showing that … 
• 83% of the artists in the Tate Modern are men
• 70% of the artists in the Saatchi Gallery are men
• 70% of the artists that have been nominated for the Turner Prize have been men and only 3 women have ever won (just 12% of all winners)
… I thought it might be interesting to see how the gender breakdown worked for RCA Secret purchases.
So I persuaded their PR people to let me have a spreadsheet detailing which postcards (by exhibition number) sold when. Then I matched the first 400 card numbers sold with their artist*.
The results† make for interesting reading. Of the first 400 postcards sold:
  • 214 were created by men (53.5%)
  • 182 by women (45.5%)
  • 2 by a woman and a man working together (0.5%)
  • 2 by artists who used their initials and whose gender I couldn’t establish (0.5%)
And of the numbers of male and female artists whose work was amongst the first 400 postcards sold?
Of a total of 254 artists:
  • 125 were men (49.21%)
  • 127 were women (50%)
  • 2 used their initials and I couldn’t establish their gender (0.79%)
I’ll leave it to others to comment.
* It’s the first 400 for two reasons.
  1. the further back you are in the queue, the less likely it is that you will be able to by your top-preference postcard. Therefore, the earliest purchases should reflect buyers’ preferences most clearly. The caveat is, the more enthusiastic the purchaser and the longer they’re willing to queue, the more knowledgeable they are likely to be about art… and, therefore, the less likely they are to be buying gender-blind.
  2. No-one was paying me to do this. Have you any idea how long it takes to match the number to the artist if you don’t know how to programme a clever script? I do have a life you know! However, if anyone fancies paying me to the whole shebang for this year, I’ll happily set aside the time…
† caveats.
  1. I’ve triple-checked, but given my manual methods & the limited time I’ve devoted to the project, it’s possible there are minor errors in my counting. So I might be out by one or two artists/postcards either way…
  2. I haven’t done a gender breakdown of all contributing artists. For the reasons detailed above.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Telegraph Gallery

All will be revealed tomorrow of course but the telegraph has just release a sneak peak of the sale.  Go here for 15 photos!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A few exciting developments today

It's certainly been a busy day on the RCA secret front.

Firstly we have news of a competition in stylist magazine for 51st place in the queue after the raffle winners.  Very exciting.  Although the closing date is expressed to be midnight on 29 November 2011.  Hope that's wrong and that Stylist didn't go to print with that same incorrect date!

Anyway you can enter the competition here, go for it, you haven't got anything to lose!

Secondly a couple of blogs have released some more images of cards.  Go here and here to take a look.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More contributor news in the guardian

The guardian's small piece about the sale here confirms more contributor names we hadn't seen before including Sir Peter Blake and Jake Chapman:

"This annual show, now in its 18th year, is a piece of fundraising genius benefitting the RCA Student Award Fund. All of its 2,800 postcard-sized artworks are for sale at £45, but the talents behind them remain anonymous until they've been purchased. Alongside students and graduates from London's Royal College Of Art, those who've donated work this year include Yoko Ono, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Jake Chapman and Sir Peter Blake. Alongside the art bigwigs there are contributions from the likes of Wallace & Grommit creator Nick Park, shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, fashion great Mary Quant, photographer David Bailey, and furniture genius Ron Arad."

Friday, November 11, 2011

2900 Cards!

According to this blog there will be 2900 cards in this years show with contributors to include "artists Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Anish Kapoor as well as design figureheads James Dyson, Paul Smith and Kenneth Grange."

It is said that this number of contributions is a record but I'm not sure that is correct.  I believe that in the early years of the sale the college got over 3000 cards.  If anyone knows for certain I'd be interested to hear.  Anyway whichever way you look at it, it will be a fantastic year!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Short piece in time out

Here is a short piece about the sale in time out. Includes another card we haven't seen before.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Design Week Blog article

Here's a link to a piece about the sale in the design week blog.

Some cards we haven't seen before (pictured below) plus the news that Anish Kapoor is a contributor.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Other RCA secret teasers

Here's three more cards from this year's sale with a bird theme, appropriately all tweeted by the college:

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Article in BMI Voyager

The latest edition of the BMI Voyager magazine has a piece about the RCA secret.  If anyone can get hold of a hard copy of this for me I would be very grateful.  Click here to see the article, which is reproduced below.

Luck of the draw

SOLICITOR PERRY HILL IS REMEMBERING THE MOMENT HE DISCOVERED he’d bought an original Grayson Perry and a Gerhard Richter for less than £100. ‘I fell to my knees,’ he admits, slightly shamefaced. ‘But it was so exciting.’ Hill is a regular at RCA Secret, held at the Royal College of Art each November and now in its 18th year.

Some 2,800 postcard-sized works are up for grabs, each priced at £45. Some of the contributors are art-world heavyweights such as David Bailey and Tracey Emin, others unknown RCA students. As the cards are signed on the reverse, you don’t find out who your purchases are by until you’ve handed over the cash. (Can you spot which of the postcards, right, are by big names? For answers, see far right.)

The artists’ identities are closely guarded, says curator Wilhelmina Bunn. ‘We’ve got a staff of just two people and will never tell the secret. We have student helpers, but they’re not allowed to handle the work.’

The postcards are on display at the RCA and online from 18 November, with the sale on Saturday 26

The doors open at 8am, and each collector is limited to four cards. Competition is fierce for the early places in the queue, and while the first 50 spots are raffled off by the college, after that it’s first come, first served. ‘Some people camp for five or six days,’ says Hill. ‘I’ve never done more than 24 hours though.’ Others turn up in the early morning, resigned to a long wait.

Most of the big-name artists stick to their signature style and themes, says Bunn, which means pieces by the likes of Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry are soon snapped up. Nonetheless, sharp-eyed latecomers can sometimes make spectacular finds. ‘Among so many cards, it’s easy to miss something,’ confirms Hill. ‘If I showed you my Damien Hirst, you’d look at it and think, “Yes, that’s obviously by Hirst.” It wasn’t so obvious when it was one card among 2,800.’

In 2007, a card by Peter Doig sold at Sotheby’s for £42,000 and a skull drawn by Hirst fetched £15,600. Most collectors prefer to hold on to their purchases, though. Hill is no exception. ‘Never say never, because you don’t know what’s around the corner, but I’d love to keep them all and leave them to my children. That’s my legacy to them.’ Elizabeth Winding