Thursday, February 28, 2013

2700 cards!

The college have announced in a press release today that this year's sale will feature 2,700 cards.  Full text below.

27 February 2013 – Legendary photographer David Bailey and internationally acclaimed artists Christo, Paula Rego and Julian Opie have all donated mini artworks to this year's RCA's annual Secret Postcard Sale.

The pieces will be available for just £45 at the RCA Secret postcard event later this month, though visitors will have to spot them among the other 2,700 postcards on display.

Each year, the Royal College of Art asks professional artists and designers, plus up-and-coming art students and graduates to make and donate a postcard-sized piece of work, signed on the back to help fundraise for the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund. Artists can paint, draw, sketch or even produce a 3-d sculpture as long as it’s postcard-sized.

This year's event will feature original works by renowned artists such as Paula Rego, Julian Opie, David Bailey, Christo and John Baldessari, Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park, film director Mike Leigh and from the world of fashion, Sir Paul Smith, Orla Kiely and Manolo Blahnik.

All postcards will be displayed anonymously for a week as part of the RCA Secret exhibition at the College’s new Dyson building in Battersea before going on sale for one day only to the public.

Each piece will be priced £45, regardless of whether it’s been made by a famous name or a young art student. Although it can help to know the different styles of the artists, it can be pure luck. Many collectors don’t realise whose work they have chosen until the sale day.

Wilhelmina Bunn, RCA Secret curator said, 'We’re thrilled with the number and quality of postcards that have been sent to us this year. The breadth of artistic styles will make for a really stunning exhibition, with contributions by artists and designers from all walks of life displayed next to each other. At a time when arts education funding is being cut we’re even more grateful for this support, with donations helping the next generation of artists coming through the College.'

Potential collectors will be able to view all the postcards in person at the RCA in Battersea or on-line at from 14 March. All postcards go on sale on Saturday 23 March on a first come, first served basis, with a maximum of four cards per person. There will also be a raffle for collectors to win a position in the first 50 places in the queue.
Over the last 19 years the event has raised more than £1 million for the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund, helping hundreds of emerging artists at a formative stage in their careers.

RCA Secret 2013 is being exhibited for the first time in the College’s new Dyson building in Battersea which houses the studios and facilities of the School of Fine Art.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thoughts on the queuers

It is interesting to read the comments at the bottom of the independent article by two posters who clearly believe that there are dealers who operate at RCA secret, and that it is those "dealers" who queue for the longest periods.

I wonder whether this is a common held belief and thought I would like to dispel some myths that have clearly built up.  The first and most obvious point is that RCA secret is not a closed shop.  The college have worked very hard to ensure that the sale is open to everyone.  Everyone has the same chance of winning the raffle, provided they buy the maximum of ten pounds worth of tickets, and the cards are sold on a first come first served basis.  It is open to most to queue although I fully accept that this is not an option for everyone and understand in particular that this method of sale is frustrating for those who are physically unable to queue or are based overseas.  Each year new people join the queue and are welcomed by queue regulars.

It is difficult to see how the college could make the sale fairer.  Certainly any sort of online sale would be a disaster as we know from sales of tickets online and limited editions prints (such as Banksy releases) that there are some very technically IT savvy people who would be able to ensure that any such sale was heavily weighted in their favour.  Likewise any extension of the raffle process would almost certainly give the college an even bigger headache than the current set up.   So in an imperfect world the college do have the best system for selling the cards.

As to the presence of dealers in the queue I really don't think this happens.  As regular readers of this blog know I queue overnight for RCA secret and therefore don't queue for some of the ridiculous amounts of time that others do.  Nevertheless having done it for so many years I have met virtually everyone who queues overnight or longer.  And I can assure you that I have not met dealers who do so.  When Gerhard Richter contributed in 2009 there was a chap from a Parisian gallery who queued just to buy the Richters, but he is the only dealer I have met in the queue.  Everyone else is simply a committed art lover.  Many of them are based outside London and use the show week to camp for their cards and also catch up on the vibrant London art scene.  There are plenty of conversations in the queue about the current show at Tate modern or whatever, and about art generally.  

If there were lots of dealers in the queue then why aren't there more secondary sales of cards?  You can count on the fingers of 2 hands the number of cards each year that are sold on, and the vast majority of these are sales on ebay for less than the cost price of the card.  Sure there is the occasional stand out sale of a card at auction but most of these are cards which featured in sales many years previously that people have held on to and then been forced to sell for financial reasons.  I know for example of one regular queuer who sadly passed away a few years ago.  His family did not share his passion for RCA secret and needed the money so his cards mostly ended up at auction.

Also it is a mistake to believe that people at the front of the queue are only there to buy cards by the big name artists.  Sure some of them are but I have seen plenty of their purchases directly after the sale and there is a strong proportion of cards that have been bought simply for the love of the card.  I know of a number of people who queue for significant periods of time and, when they get to the front of the queue deliberately eschew cards they know to be by big name artists in favour of cards that they have fallen in love with.

It's a cynical world we live in and full of conspiracy theories and greed.  I'm not saying RCA secret is perfect but it is in my opinion the closest thing the contemporary art world has to democratising art ownership.  And that's one of the reasons I love it so much.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated FAQ's

In advance of the 2013 sale I thought it would be helpful if I updated the FAQs.  So here they are.

How do I spot the cards by the top artists?

The million dollar question. My first answer to that would be another question – why would you want to? If it is because you love the artist anyway and RCA secret is the only way that you can pick up their work at an affordable price then trust me you have a good chance of spotting your favourite artist’s work.

If it is because you are looking to make money out of the sale then, sorry you are on your own. And in any event it is unclear how much the cards from the sale are worth in any event.

What time should I start queuing?

Any time after me ;) Seriously though I know people who have started to queue 2 hours after the sale doors opened and have still got the cards they want, although that was a few years ago now and the sale gets more popular every year.   It really depends on how committed you are. The queue starts to swell quickly from around 6.30am until the doors open.   Don't expect to see much left if you turn up much after around 9am.  It is not known how the change in venue of the sale in 2013 will affect the length of the queue.
What should I buy?

It sounds clich├ęd but seriously you should buy what you like. Isn’t that more important than buying something that you think may be by a famous artist? I guarantee most of the time your punts at a famous artist will usually be wrong.

How does the raffle work?

Once registered for the sale you can buy up to 10 raffle tickets at £1 each.  These are on sale up until the Friday afternoon of the sale.  On each raffle ticket you write your buyers number and phone number.  The college draw 50 lucky winners and telephone each of the winners on friday evening, generally between 6pm and 7pm to let them know they have won.  If you have won you are allowed to enter the sale before the queuers.  Once you are inside the building you are assigned a pre-drawn position within the top 50 and assembled into order.  You can then make your purchases having stolen a march on all those hardy queuers.  Good luck to you. 

What’s the best way to frame RCA secret cards?

I personally think that they should be framed so that the card can be viewed both front and back. A professional framer should be able to guide you on this, basically you can cut out a bit of the mount at the back to show the rear of the card and that all important signature. This can make the framed piece heavy if two pieces of glass are used, so consider using a piece of Perspex on the back, which is lighter.

Clearly the best way of protecting your cards is to make sure that the cards are conservation framed with UV glass. To make a real difference try using non-reflective glass.   Click here for details of our favourite framer.
How does the buying process work?

You can view the cards for a week before the sale day both in person at the college and online.

Don’t forget to register with the college in advance (there is no registration on the day of the sale) and then join the queue on the day of the sale. Make sure you have made a detailed list of the card numbers that you wish to purchase. Make this list as long as possible as many of your first choices are bound to be gone by the time that you get to the front of the queue.

When the sale was done in Kensington then you were eventually taken down to a room below the exhibition hall. There was a bank of tills in the room and also a computer screen which displayed the numbers and tiny images of the cards. The sold cards were indicated on the screen.  It is assumed that the 2013 sale will follow a similar process but we won't know for sure until the day of the sale.

When you get to the front of the queue read out the card numbers to the cashier. Don’t worry if you haven’t noted whether a particular card is still available – they will tell you if it is not.

Once you have selected your four cards then pay for them and take your collection slip to the gallery. There a runner will get the cards for you, confirm with you that they have the correct ones, and hand them to you. You can then check the back for the all important name.

How do the college keep it all a secret?

The college take this seriously. Whilst people have tried to suggest that the college must pass on information to others there is no foundation to this at all. The college are extremely fair in the way they deal with the sale. Only a very small number of people are aware of the identity of the artists.

 How much are the cards worth?

The short answer is whatever people are prepared to pay for them. It is true that in recent times many of the cards in the sale have fetched large sums on the secondary market. A Peter Doig card went for £42,000 at auction and a Damien Hirst for £15,600.  Other Hirst cards have fetched much more modest sums on the secondary market. 

Save for the very top artists most of the cards are not worth that much money. Ebay sales of cards from previous sales show most selling for around their original cost.

This is really not about the money for most people – it is getting some affordable original art on people’s walls.

Who exhibits at RCA secret?

Of course there are the big names.Tracey Emin in particular has contributed to the sale year on year. Many other big names have contributed in the past – Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, John Baldessari, David Hockney, Paula Rego, Peter Doig, Frank Auerbach, Anish Kapoor, Glenn Brown etc etc.

For me RCA secret is not just about these big name contributors though. There are literally hundreds of well known, well established artists who regularly support the exhibition. The beauty of the show is buying something by one of these artists, taking it home, doing a search for that artist on google and then finding out about them and taking an interest in their career after that. RCA secret has introduced me to hundreds of artists that I wouldn’t ordinarily have come across. If you allow it to it will open up your eyes to a whole new realm of contemporary British art.

As for the students – well remember that the RCA is an exclusively post-graduate place of study. So these students have already spent a considerable amount of time immersed in the art world. Some of my favourite RCA secret cards are by students.
What do the college do with unsold cards?

There aren’t many. The college say that they are returned to the artist sometimes. In 2006 some of the 2005 cards made reappearances.

Where can I find out more about the artists?

Often you will get home, google the artist’s name and not find anything. Especially if they have a common name. Try emailing the college. They may hold the artists CV or a short biography that they will give to you.

How do I find out more about the show?

The RCA secret blog is a great start.  Check out the RCA Secret facebook group as well.  This blog and the college also have RCA Secret twitter feeds.
Can I contribute to the blog?

Yes please. This is an unofficial fan’s blog. I want to have as many stories from you as to your RCA secret adventures. Whether you are a newbie or an RCA Secret veteran please do send me your stories and provided they are clean I will publish them, guaranteeing as much or as little as anonymity as you would wish. I’d also love to hear from artists who would like to write something about the processes involved in contributing to RCA secret.
Finally, will you tell me who did card number 129?

Er no, here to help but come on that would ruin the fun of it all. Besides you might be ahead of me in the queue.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Article in todays Independent on Sunday

RCA secret 2013 got its first major press today with a page spread on page 3 of the independent on Sunday.  The article reveals some of this year's contributors plus features a few of the cards which will be sold this year.

Full text of the article below, click here to read on the independent website.

Just £45 for a David Bailey? It must be the RCA's secret sale

Hundreds will queue overnight to buy postcard-size artworks that could be worth tens of thousands

Art for art's sake; money, well, that comes later. The works at a "secret" sale next month are interesting enough: a girl astride a giant rabbit; child-like paint smears; a collage of monsters; and a woman dressed as a zebra. But for at least some of the hundreds who will queue through the night for a £45 postcard there's the promise of a future profit that could run to tens of thousands of pounds.
For some of Britain's biggest names in the arts and creative world are among more than 2,500 artists who have created postcard-sized works for the annual Royal College of Art secret postcard sale on 23 March.

Among them are Paula Rego, Julian Opie, David Bailey, Christo and John Baldessari. Others include the Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park, film director Mike Leigh and fashion designers such as Sir Paul Smith, Orla Kiely and Manolo Blahnik.

An exhibition of the postcards starts on 14 March at the RCA's Dyson Building in Battersea, London. Thousands are expected to buy a raffle ticket to see if they can be among the first 50 allowed to buy them. The identities of the artists are on the backs of the postcards, so people only discover if they have spent £45 on something by a big-name artist, or by an unknown, once money has changed hands.

Most will think it worth the gamble: a postcard painting of a man in a canoe, by Peter Doig, made £42,000 at Sotheby's in June 2007. It cost £30 seven years earlier. In the same sale, a Damien Hirst sketch of a skull, bought in 2004, sold for £15,600. A pen drawing of a figure by Tracey Emin fetched £16,000 in 2008. And earlier this month a painting of a woman by Gillian Carnegie sold for £6,000. It was bought in 1997, when the artist was a student at the RCA.

Yet, while fortunes can be made, surprisingly few of the postcards are sold on, says Wilhelmina Bunn, curator of the exhibition: "I think it's because the possibility of owning a piece by a well-known artist is so small to a lot of people that they tend to hold on to them."

In an attempt to prevent predatory art dealers hoovering up everything at the sale, the mini-artworks are sold on a "first-come, first-served" basis, with a four-per-person limit.

Now in its 20th year, the sale is expected to raise more than £100,000 for college bursaries.
Of the show's great popularity and the long overnight queue, Ms Bunn says: "By the morning, we have probably got about a thousand people waiting." She adds: "We get a few who will camp over for two or three nights."

View the postcards at from 14 March

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hockney a contributor?

Wow wow wow! According to this blog RCA secret will feature a contribution from David Hockney (as well as Tracey emin and yoko Ono). Hockney has contributed before so it is not impossible he will do so again. There are some innacuracies in that blog post so we will have to see whether they are right. Exciting news nevertheless.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carnegie makes £6000

With buyers commission the Gillian Carnegie RCA Secret postcard that was sold today at Sothebys made £6,000. Wow.

Friday, February 08, 2013

College updates its website

The college has updated the RCA Secret website with some text written by Honour Bayes.

We’re back! Did you miss us? In March 2013 RCA Secret returns to the Royal College of Art’s Dyson Building.
In 2011, RCA Secret celebrated its eighteenth birthday as a unique exhibition and sale of over 2,500 original postcard-sized artworks made by professional artists, designers and illustrators, including alumni and postgraduate students at the Royal College of Art.

We took a year out while the Royal College of Art celebrated its 175th Anniversary in 2012, but in 2013 RCA Secret returns for our twentieth year as one of London’s most popular art sales.

Forthcoming Exhibition & Sale
We’re far too excited to wait until the autumn, so the new RCA Secret will be revealed on Thursday 14 March 2013, with the exhibition running up until the day of the Sale on Saturday 23 March. This new spring in our step not only sees a change in dates, but a move to the Royal College of Art’s landmark development — the Dyson Building, 1 Hester Road, SW11 4AN.

The Secret
Ever wondered if you could spot an Emin at 20 paces? How about a Grayson Perry? Each postcard in RCA Secret is signed only on the back, so collectors won’t know the identity of the artists until they have made their purchases.

We’re giving you nine days to check out this eclectic collection and then for one day only the cards will be sold to support the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund. With generous contributions of new work from hundreds of leading international artists and designers, RCA Secret continues to help emerging artists at a formative stage in their careers. So whether you walk away with a famous name or not, you’ll be buying a bit of history and contributing to the future.

Each postcard costs £45 and a maximum of four cards may be purchased per person. Postcards are only available to purchase in person at the Sale. You must have an RCA Secret Collector's Number to purchase a card at RCA Secret 2013. Register HERE to get one

Dyson Building, 1 Hester Road, London SW11 4AN

Exhibition open: 14–22 March 11am–6pm
Late opening: Thursday 21 March until 9pm
Sale open: Saturday 23 March 8am-6pm
Free Admission

Buses (to Battersea Bridge south side): 19, 49 and 345 from South Kensington; 170 from Victoria; 19 from Sloane Square; 319 and 49 from Clapham Junction

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Idle Speculation....

With just over a month to go before the RCA secret show opens we thought it would be a good time to indulge in some idle speculation about the show and how it is going to work this year.  

The change of venue makes things very interesting.  Routines that people have adopted over the years in respect of the show will have changed.  I have a few of those routines myself.  For example I always go and see the show with the family on Sunday then end up in Kensington Gardens afterwards followed by Giraffe.  The day of the sale has also followed a set routine for the last few years.  

With a different venue those routines have gone.  Will that mean that some people don't come at all?  I don't know.  Clearly the RCA Secret devotees won't be put off by a change of venue.  But those who pop into the show in Kensington or queue lateish on Saturday morning may not be inclined to make the trip south of the river.  Battersea is lovely, more convenient for me in fact, with more amenities close to the RCA buildings than in Kensington and the wonder that is Battersea park virtually on the doorstep. 

But leaving aside the pathetic utterances of some North Londoners that they won't travel south of the river there are some genuine transport issues.  The closest tube is Sloane Square (a good 30 minute walk away) and although well served by buses and reasonably well served by overground trains the lack of a local tube is a major issue.  The organisers of the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea park realise this, putting on shuttle buses from Sloane Square for punters.  Clearly the college will not be able to do that.  Will it mean less footfall to the exhibition, I strongly suspect so.  

If the change of venue wasn't enough we also have a change of date.  From November to March.  Lots of positives here.  Hopefully it should be slightly warmer.  It will definitely be lighter.  That should encourage more people to come.  It's a week before easter as well, some schools will have broken up on Friday 22nd..  The biggest negative I can see about the change of date is that the proximity of a November sale to christmas did mean that people could use it to indulge in some early christmas shopping.  It was a great place to buy someone a unique chistmas present.  With the move to March it does feel like a slightly more self-indulgent purchase.  

Also the change of date may have caused some difficulty with the logistics of the show.  I can well understand why the college would not want to sent out cards to potential contributors in December, as they are likely to get stuck in the christmas rush.  But by sending out cards in mid-January, for return by mid-February, there must be a risk that some contributors just won't be able to return their donations in time.  Hopefully that won't happen and we will see a bumper crop of wonderful cards come show time.

In advance of the sale I'll try and do a piece on the blog with hints and tips about the local area etc.  In the meantime the waiting continues...