RCA Secret – past years

One of the few dates in London that I now never miss is the day of the RCA Secret sale, or as it has been re-named this year, the Stewarts Law RCA Secret. As there’s just over a month to go now until the 2014 sale, I thought I’d do a post on my past experiences (all two of them).

What is it?

RCA Secret is an annual event in which a number of artists and students of the Royal College of Art create postcard sized artworks for sale to the public (up to four per person) at a fixed price of £50 – the catch is that you don’t know who produced the artwork until you’ve bought it. In part years artists like Grayson Perry, Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter have contributed to the sale.

The proceeds go to the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund which supports students.

2011

The first RCA Secret sale I went to was in 2011, a few months after I moved down to London. It’s something I heard about before moving down and I knew I wanted to take part as soon as I was a Londoner. Having read a lot about RCA Secret, I decided that I was going to camp out overnight for a good position in the queue.

I must admit that I wasn’t the most prepared. I’d been pulling at least 14 hour days (if not more) at work for the two weeks before the sale, so I bought a tent for £15 from Argos along with a sleeping bag. I piled some warm clothes and blankets to sleep on into a duffel bag and considered myself good to go. I stayed at work until about 9pm, ate some dinner there and then decided to head over to South Kensington.

I got there and found the end of the queue, which by that point was outside the Bulgarian Embassy. With the help of the guy in front of me in the queue, I pitched my tent and, exhausted after long hours at work that week, settled down for the night. It really wasn’t the most comfortable night ever, for a start it was the end of November so it was FREEZING, I was also essentially sleeping on concrete with a road only about a metre or two from my head. It really didn’t help that people kept passing by and asking those waiting what we were all queueing for. Although I did have to smile when drunk students came by at around 2am and decided to run their hands along the line of tents going ‘woooooo’ like a ghost.

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2011

The above picture is of my swanky South Kensington home for the night – posh, right?

I was woken at about 6am (which, for the record, is far too early to wake up on a Saturday morning after very little sleep on a cold hard pavement) so that I could pack up my tent and the queue could then bunch together. After packing up we all shuffled forwards to the point where I could just about see the door to the building. We had to wait for 9am to get in which allowed everyone time to check out each other’s list of choices and talk about which we liked the most.

Once you get into the building there were screens strategically placed along the queue which scrolled through the card numbers and updated in real time so that you could see which ones were sold, this gives you the chance to cross them off from your list and suffer a little bit of heartbreak over the ones that got away (I’m still slightly distraught that I missed out on an illustration of a dead stag – it was much nicer than it sounds, well, it appealed to me anyway).

You snake your way to the front of the queue and give your numbers to one of the people manning the tills, they check that they’re available and once you have what you want, you pay and take your receipt into the exhibition for one of the staff to collect your postcards and package them up in an envelope for you to take away, at which point you can check out who the artists are. This is probably the bit I am least fussed about, if I love the pieces then I’m not really bothered whether the artist is a student or a famous artist.

These are the pieces I came away with from 2011’s sale.

This piece is by Philip Jell:

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2011 Philip Jell

The piece below on the left (the Bunny Man who manages to scare friends and family alike) is by Cathy Lomax, the piece on the right is by Debra McFarlane:

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2011 Cathy Lomax Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2011 Debra McFarlane

This piece is by Jenni Morton:

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2011 Jenni Morton

2013

My experiences in 2013 were very different for a number of reasons. After the 2011 sale, they announced that the sale would move to March instead of April and would return in 2013 at the Royal College of Art’s new Dyson Building in Battersea, so there was no 2012 sale.

We went to have a look at the exhibition and the building once it opened and whilst it is beautiful and in an area with shops and restaurants just round the corner (better for sale day), it’s not as easily accessible for me. The best way for me to get there is a tube to Victoria and then a bus which does at least drop you off right outside (still it’s a bit more of a pain than Tubes though, I hate buses).

This year I was marginally more prepared than in 2011, only marginally though. I’d taken the afternoon off as I wanted to get there earlier to get set up so we (my boyfriend agreed to accompany me, having declared himself a ‘camping natural’ after our practice setting up the tent in my bedroom, this was despite the fact that he’s never actually been camping) got there for about 3pm.

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2013 Dyson Building

We set up camp in the courtyard behind the RCA building – which has a gravel floor which is marginally better than concrete paving slabs and went to stock up on goodies from the supermarket round the corner and have a look at the exhibition again (just to confirm the choices on my list, of course).

As the afternoon wore on we were starting to get hungry and were contemplating the logistics of ordering a Dominos pizza to be delivered to a tent in a courtyard when my phone rang. I pounced on it and my heart started racing when I saw it was an unknown number. It was the RCA Secret staff to let me know that I had won the raffle which meant that I would be guaranteed a place in the first 50 people into the sale.

At that point we packed up the tent and headed home (for a Dominos), just as it started sleeting. Although it was nice to go home to a warm bed, I think my alarm did go off at something like 5.30am the next morning so that I could get up and back over to Battersea again. When I turned up all of the people waiting looked freezing cold and wet, it had been sleeting for most of the night and I understand that even the veterans of RCA Secret had a tough time. I felt so sorry for them. So much for March being better weather-wise than November! I also understand that there was noise from the nearby Bunga Bunga nightclub which went on until the early hours of Saturday morning.

We were taken into the building, our names had been drawn from the raffle and allocated a number in the queue. Our names were called out and we were lined up in accordance with our allocated place. I was number 24 in the queue.

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2013 first fifty

Despite being so early in the queue, I was surprised that two of my first choices had already gone. Clearly someone ahead of me had similar taste to me! But I was really happy with the pieces I ended up with, they’re below.

This piece is by Ceal Warnants;

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2013 Ceal Warnants

This piece is by Luke Elwes:

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2013 Luke Elwes

This is by Jean Macalpine:

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2013 Jean Macalpine

And the final piece is this one by Laurel Johannesson:

Royal College of Art RCA Secret postcard sale 2013 Laurel Johannesson

If you want to see more of last year’s artworks, they can be viewed here until the new exhibition opens.

Look out for a post coming soon with my thoughts on this year’s exhibition (which opens on 13th March) together with some advice based on my experience if you’re planning on attending this year’s sale (22nd March).

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  • Corinne C

    I’ve never camped out or waited out for an event. The concept of this seems lovely though. I pieces you came away with are lovely! I love the first one with the number things. I don’t know what they are called, ha! But there is something really disturbingly beautiful about it.

    Corinne x
    http://www.skinnedcartree.com

  • disqus_k8R8UmI9Bk

    I’d never heard of this before in London. Such an interesting read! Didn’t Banksy do something similar just selling his stuff in a park in NY or something for £60 but nobody knew they were by him til later? Lovely little pieces you’ve picked up xxx Bee

  • Lisa

    I saw a news piece about that Banksy thing, that was brilliant because they did just look like fake Banksy style knock-offs, I wouldn’t have paid £60 for them. I love it when art become affordable and available though, it makes it much more fun and interesting.

  • Chloé

    This sounds amazing,I must go to one someday! I’ve not heard of it before now, thank you for educating me 🙂