RCA Secret – this year’s exhibition and my hints and tips

A few weeks ago I wrote about my past experiences of RCA Secret (and what it is in case you don’t know), on Thursday the postcards went up online and the exhibition opened at the Royal College of Art Dyson Building in Battersea. So yesterday on a sunny Saturday I went along to look at the cards in person.

Although I’d looked at the cards online, seeing them in person is very different and card which look like nothing online can appear very different in person, conversely cards which really catch your eye online are sometimes not as good in real life as they appear online. The more sculptural pieces are often impossible to decipher online and so just have to be seen.

In this year’s exhibition there are 2900 artworks by 1124 artists including Yinka Shonibare, Jeremy Deller, Paula Rego, Quentin Blake, David Bailey and Grayson Perry, musician Jarvis Cocker, architect Zaha Hadid, fashion designers Sir Paul Smith and, head of Burberry, Christopher Bailey.

The exhibition was busy when I turned up, but I suppose it was the first weekend day that it was open.

As you’ll see from the above, some of the pieces aren’t really postcards anymore but are 3D artworks. Two that attracted my attention for their positioning were the below two ‘cards’, one with the front half of a stuffed rat, the other with the back end. They were placed either side of one of the walls in the middle of the room so that viewing it from the side gave you a view of both (neither one is on my wishlist).

I came away with a whole sheet of paper covered with card numbers that caught my eye in real life that I hadn’t appreciated online (and one or two cards to cross off my wishlist). One thing that did strike me though was the number of cards with slightly bent corners. I wonder whether the RCA might consider sending out better packaging for artists to return their cards in, from pictures I’ve seen on Twitter of artists returning their cards, they are just in regular envelopes. Sadly I avoid those cards with bent corners, some of which would be on my wishlist otherwise.
While I was there I entered the raffle to win a chance to be among the first fifty in the sale queue. Last year I won on the raffle and was 24th in the queue so I thought I’d take my chances again this year.

Talking about queuing, there were already four tents when I got there, although there was no sign of life, so I’m not sure if anyone was actually in there. Interestingly they are round the front of the building this year, last year they were in the courtyard around the back. Apparently there is construction work going on at the back this year according to the girl manning the raffle ticket entry. So it looks like a night on concrete and possibly right next to the road for campers.
So, what are my tips if you want to take part and try and buy something in the RCA Secret sale?
1. Look at the cards online and use the ‘save favourites’ function on the website – the ‘save favourites’ allows you to create a list of your favourites which shows both the card image and its number, you can print this and bring it along to the sale to remind you which each card was.
2. Try and go in person if you can – like I said above, you may change your mind having seen the cards in person, cards can look very different in person.
3. If you’re planning on queuing, get wrapped up – it might be milder this year than last, but it’s still March and standing in one place for any length of time means that you’re bound to get a bit chilly.
4. Buy cards you love – this is a fairly personal tip regarding my purchasing strategy. I thought I spotted cards by Paula Rego but even if I was first in the queue, I wouldn’t want to have them on my wall as they are not my kind of thing, I want to buy art that I love. Some people have sold cards from past years and made a profit, but that’s not really why I go to RCA Secret, I go to buy original art pieces I love.
5. Think about what you want – the first year I went I didn’t have much of a plan and just tried to opt for anything on my shortlist that was still available. The second year I had a strategy, I wanted to maintain a mixture of mediums so I split my wishlist into a few categories; paintings, illustrations, photos and misc, I then ordered the cards in those categories in order of preference. It also helps if you have thought about what you’re going to do with the cards and how to display them.

6. Take a pen to the sale – in the queue there will be screens displaying those cards which have been sold, it will help if you can start crossing them off as you queue so that when you get to the till you aren’t running through a long list of card numbers which have already gone.

Have you been to the exhibition? What were your thoughts? I’d love to know.
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