Sunday, January 31, 2016

Who is Candra Cassini?

For many years, since about 2003 I reckon, there has been an artist given the name Candra Cassini who has donated up to 6 paintings each year to RCA Secret.

In modern life to be a successful artist, in common with most other professions, you need to promote yourself or have others (gallerists or publicists) promote you on your behalf.   Virtually every artist will have their own website or at the very least a page on Saatchi arts.   Most will have a facebook page, an Instagram feed, a twitter profile.  Those signed with a gallery will also have the benefit of that galleries promotional activity. 
Yet Candra Cassini has none of this.  We know nothing about her.  Her cards have attracted a lot of attention over the years.  Buyers have been attracted to her meticulous, almost photorealistic little paintings.  Others have commented favourably and less favourably about her contributions in the press (see for example the comments by Grayson Perry in this article - Cassini's painting was the one of the queen below).    

But if you google Candra Cassini all you get is RCA Secret references, many to this blog, and one old auction result of a painting that was sold by Chiswick Auctions in 2014 of Chelsea pensioners.  It seems that the auctioneers of this painting didn’t know who Candra Cassini was either describing her as “21st Century British School.”  Given the subject matters of all of these paintings is she really likely to be Italian?

In 2004 I emailed the college to ask them about who Cassini was and got back this response:

"Candra was privately tutored in the style of the old masters by an unnamed tutor, whose works are mounted in the Louvre, Paris.  As far as I know she had not taken part in any other group shows or solo shows...

Her small statement read:

Some of my paintings have featured on Satellite television, my paintings have been published in magazines.  His Holiness Pope John Paul II has one of my paintings in the Vatican.  Presently, I'm completing a Biblical oil painting by Christmas for a church in Rome"
But of course in those days the internet was in its infancy.  Only a few artists had websites.  It is more extraordinary now that we know so little about her.

My best guess, and this is guess – Candra Cassini is an alias or a nom de plume if you like for someone else.  Possibly a member of staff at the college who for many years has been anonymously donating these cards to RCA secret and seeing what feedback he or she gets. 
What do you think?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fewer cards this year?

The college is sending out three cards to most contributing artists this year - 2 for London and 1 for Dubai.  Generally most artists have been sent 3 cards for London in the last few years.  Apparently according to the college on Facebook space is tighter in the Kensington gallery. So maybe we won't see as many cards for sale this year....

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tactics shmactics

Well the colleges announcement about the changes to RCA secret has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons hasn't it.

Like all these things there are I think good points and bad points.  Let's start with my view about the good points

1) the sale is back in Kensington.  I think this is just because of the many years of shared memories about Kensington and the years of camping but for me Kensington will always be RCA secret's home.  I do really like the site in battersea and it's actually much more convenient for me but the lack of a tube station near it may well have affected attendance in the last 3 years.

2) the later sale date means it should be a bit warmer.  Here's hoping

3) the sale lasts longer than a day.  I've been saying for some time that the college should make the sale last for more than 1 day to maximise sales.  This makes total sense.

Now the negatives:

1) no raffle - this will I think inevitably mean much longer queues for the start of the sale depending on what happens with drip feeding in cards later in the week.

2) the drip feeding of cards - instinctively this feels unfair especially when combined with a set limit of 4 cards per person (see below).  It will be very hard on people who don't live in London and are travelling in.  When do they come?  And for all of us - do you queue from the start or do you take a risk and buy later into the week knowing that your favourite cards might be gone?  An element of chance has been introduced that simply doesn't feel like cricket.

3) the limit of four cards per person.  By all means limit the first sale on Sunday to four cards per person but once that is done, especially with the drip feeding of cards, why not let buyers buy another four cards later on in the week?  I really can't see any downside to this and it would increase the colleges revenue as well.

4) collection later.  I want to buy my cards, turn them over and find out who did them.  I don't want someone else telling me who they are by.  I like the big reveal, it's a major, major part of the excitement for me.  I like seeing all my friends immediately after the sale and showing them what I bought and seeing what they got.  I like holding my card and looking at them, working out how the artist made them.  I want to do that after the sale not in a weeks time when I have to make a special trip just to collect.  And I certainly don't want to have to trust my hard won masterpieces to the vagaries of Royal Mail.

What's everyone else's thoughts? 

Friday, January 15, 2016

RCA secret press release

Here is the RCA secret 2016 press, published yesterday and taken from the college's website:

Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU
Exhibition: 8–15 April 2016 (Friday 8 – Saturday 9 April exhibition only; sale begins Sunday 10 April. Collection day will be Saturday 16 April).  Please see notes to editors for timings.
Press view: 7 April 2016 

The Royal College of Art (RCA) is pleased to announce details of the eagerly awaited annual RCA Secret exhibition and sale, sponsored by Stewarts Law.
From 8 April 2016, RCA Secret will open at the Royal College of Art’s Kensington campus. The exhibition will feature over 2,000 postcard-sized drawings, collages, photographs and sculptures by some of the world’s most celebrated artists and designers, as well as by promising students from the College.
RCA Secret attracts high-profile art collectors and passionate art lovers. Each of the postcards on display is sold anonymously for £55, with the identity of the maker revealed only when the purchase is complete. All profits from the sale go towards the RCA Student Award Fund, which helps emerging artists at a formative stage in their careers by funding scholarships to the College.
The postcard-sized contributions to RCA Secret are donated by invited students as well as leading international artists and designers. Every contribution is an original artwork, produced with the same rigour as any other work in the makers’ repertoire. Last year, participating artists included: David Bailey, Margaret Calvert, Jeremy Deller, Sir James Dyson, Zaha Hadid, Maggi Hambling, Susan Hiller, Lubaina Himid, Eley Kishimoto, Mike Leigh, Richard Long, Chris Orr, Cathie Pilkington, Laure Prouvost, Paula Rego, Zandra Rhodes, Jim Shaw, Yinka Shonibare, Bob and Roberta Smith, Gavin Turk, Lawrence Weiner, Alison Wilding and Rose Wylie.
In response to a new curatorial vision that builds on the increasing popularity of RCA Secret over the past two decades, this year, new postcards will be added during the exhibition itself. Buyers will be able to buy their chosen postcards from Sunday 10 April.
This new approach provides more opportunities to buyers; visitors will be able to marvel at the diverse array of images as all the postcards remain on display until the end of the exhibition. Buyers will also be able to collect their postcards in person on the collection day, or arrange for them to be posted once the exhibition has closed.
RCA Secret started in 1994 and is London’s original postcard exhibition and sale. For the second year, RCA Secret with Art Dubai will exhibit from 16 to 19 March 2016. As in London bespoke, postcard sized artworks from the world’s leading creatives as well as RCA alumni, students and local artists and designers will be available to buy for 500 AED each.
Dr Paul Thompson, Rector RCA, said, ‘The annual RCA Secret exhibition provides a rare art-world moment, when a small part of the global contemporary art market is made accessible to everyone. It is thanks to the artists and designers who donate their work to this much-needed cause that we are able to stage this wonderful exhibition. In doing so, they and the buyers provide opportunities to the emerging artists and designers of the future, who – as students – are often stretched to their limits financially.’
For further information or images please contact Bethany Bull, RCA Press Office on t: +44 (0) 20 7590 4114, e:, or
Notes to Editors
RCA Secret Dubai website:
Exhibition location: Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU                                                        

Thursday 7 April: Press View only
Friday 8 – Saturday 9 April: Public exhibition open (no sales) 11.00 – 18.00
Sunday 10th April - Sale open 8.00 – 18.00
Monday 11th - Friday 15th April: Sale open 11.00 – 18.00 (late openings on Wednesday and Friday when more cards are added. Close at 20.00)
Friday 15 April - Exhibition closes at 20.00
Saturday 16th April - Collection day for all buyers to collect their postcards only 9.00 – 17.00
(NB buyers who make a purchase on the Friday only will also be able to take their postcards away with them there and then to save them having to return again on the Saturday to collect)
Buses: 9, 10, 52, 70, 360, 452

Thursday 7 April: Press View only
Free admission                                                                                                         
Nearest Tube: South Kensington / Gloucester Road
To purchase a postcard, buyers must register for a buyer’s ID from the RCA website
Buyers will be able to purchase up to 4 cards each.
The Royal College of Art is the world’s leading university of art and design, placing at Number One in the 2015 QS World University Rankings. Specialising in teaching and research, the RCA offers the degrees of MA, MPhil, MRes and PhD across the disciplines of applied art, fine art, design, communications and humanities. There are over 1,500 Master’s and doctoral students and more than 1,000 professionals interacting with them – including scholars, art and design practitioners, along with specialists, advisers and distinguished visitors.
Stewarts Law Stewarts Law LLP is the proud to sponsor the RCA Secret Exhibition in their 25th Anniversary Year practicing law. Stewarts Law is one of the UK’s leading litigation law firms.  They have built a strong reputation for innovative and ground breaking dispute practice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

David Bowie and RCA Secret

How strange that the last post in this blog should reference a David Bowie song so shortly before his sad death.

An awful lot has been written about David Bowie this week but most has understandably focused on the huge contribution he has made to music since the release of Starman in 1972.  But Bowie’s contribution to culture in the UK goes way beyond music.   His commitment to visual arts, in particular digital art, was huge. 
New devotees of RCA secret may also not appreciate that Bowie made a huge contribution to the early years of the sale.  Not only was he a regular contributor to the sale (in the year 2000 the Evening Standard ran a competition where readers could win one of his postcards) but his website was also the sponsor of the sale in the period between 2000 and 2003.  Bowie was an early adopter of the internet and it was through his website that the college first started publishing images of the cards online in 2002. 
How far the world has come since then.   RIP David.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Ch ch ch ch changes.....

It appears that RCA Secret is changing in 2016.  The RCA secret website has been updated so firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the sale in London will apparently take place in April.  We hear, although this is not confirmed yet, that the exhibition will be between 7 and 15 April with presumably the sale on the following day?   The sale in Dubai is still in March (16th to 19th to be precise) so this opens up all sorts of possibilities for collectors.  Will anyone be tempted to fly to Dubai to buy cards there, then return to London for a second set?  It wouldn’t surprise me if some committed collectors do just that.  No mention of the potential Hong Kong sale.   
Secondly there is a bald statement on the website that RCA secret is “changing” with “more chances for collectors to snap up the cards they love”.  What do we think this might mean?  One change which appears to be taking place is that it appears that RCA secret is back in the Gulbenkian Galleries in Kensington, rather than it’s recent home in Battersea.  But that isn’t a change that gives collectors more chances to snap up the cards they want….
Well this blog wouldn’t be this blog without indulging in some mindless speculation.  I can assure you that none of this comes with any inside knowledge at all.  Here are some possibilities we have thought of:
1)      The sale is extended.  I’ve been saying for some time that given the number of cards in the sale and the fact that the number of purchasers has reduced over the last couple of years it would sensible for the college to increase the number of days that the cards are on sale, perhaps combining this with (2) below.  This would give those who can’t attend on the sale day (or  either can’t or don’t have the inclination to queue) to pitch up on day 2 and buy without all the hassle.
2)      After, say, 12noon on sale day, collectors are allowed to purchase any more cards they want – I totally agree that the limit of four cards gives everyone the chance of buying what they like but once the queues have died down it makes sense to relax those limits and allow collectors to buy more cards if they want.  Everyone is a winner from this and I can’t see any downside.
3)      Sales of cards is split.  Day 1 of the sale is for cards numbered 1 to 1500 and day 2 for cards number 1501 to 3000.   Can’t see this working in practice and it would be a nightmare managing 2 queues.
4)      After the sale is finished unsold cards are sold online on a first come first served basis – again there would seem to be no downside to this provided the college can set up a suitable online purchasing solution and have the resources to manage sending the cards out to purchasers.  Collectors who are overseas get the chance to buy cards they wouldn’t ordinarily get and the college sells more of the artwork.  They could even put on sale unsold cards from previous years.
5)      Unsold cards from Dubai get imported into the London sale – this would seem to make sense give the difference in dates between the two.  Again very little downside.
6)      Some cards sold by auction method rather than flat price– I for one would be totally against such a proposition.  Whilst it may prove a money spinner for the college it flies in the face of everything the sale stands for.  Contributing artists I suspect wouldn’t like this either. 
7)      Places in the raffle are auctioned off – again I would be against this for all the reasons in (6) above.
8)      Raffle tickets are sold online – this is probably inevitable at some point however it would be essential to ensure that (9) below is followed as much as possible.
9)      The raffle is better policed – there have been numerous stories about people buying multiple sets of raffle tickets under one buyer number or even turning up and holding themselves out as a raffle winner when they are not the name of the registered buyer.  To stop this the college should ensure that only one set of raffle tickets can be bought against one buyer number – this shouldn’t be too hard to do in this computerised age.  In order to buy those tickets you should have to produce photographic ID that matches your buyer name.  They should also insist that raffle winners turn up with photographic ID.  If their ID doesn’t match the name of the registered buyer then they should be refused admission.  No exceptions. 
10)   Other changes to the raffle – bigger number of raffle winners, more chances to buy tickets, places offered to sponsors, on social media etc.  Apart from (9) above I think the raffle works well and should be kept.
So there you go a few thoughts that occurred.  Maybe you will have others or thoughts on the suggestions above?