The Scribblaire recently attended the Stewarts Law RCA Secret Postcard Art Exhibition and Sale held at the Royal College of Arts Dyson Building in Battersea. This is an annual event held to raise funds for student bursaries. Many well known and high profile artists contribute works to the exhibition and sale, as well as established artists and students of the college.
It’s called a secret sale because the identity of the artist is not revealed until the buyer has paid for their selected work(s). For some collectors, the ‘game’ is to work out which of the works were produced by famous names and therefore either add to a serious collection or provide a serious return on their investment. For others, it’s an opportunity to discover up and coming artists who might be well known in the future. There are also first timers who can start their own art collection in a very affordable way. For us, it was a chance to add to an existing (albeit small) art collection and to find out more about the sale.
Each postcard costs £50 and there is a maximum purchase of four postcards. This restricts serious collectors or those with an expert eye and large wallet and give everyone a chance of getting hold of something in their selection. The Scribblaire wholly approves of this democratic system.
The RCA held an exhibition of the 2900 works at the Dyson Building in the run up to the sale. All the postcards can also be viewed online for those who are unable to make it. However, the postcards can only be purchased on one day, in person, at the College building.
Potential buyers need to register their interest online when a unique registration number is generated. No sale is possible without this number. Once we had our number, we visited the website where all the works are displayed. Each has a unique number which helps record the choice of favourites. We made our selection from this list as we weren’t able to attend the exhibition. The process took a whole evening as there were so many to review. After recording each number we noted which we especially liked and highlighted these numbers. We ended up with a list of about 60 works, of which perhaps 20 were particular favourites.
When the day of the sale arrived, we got up early to get into London before doors opened at 8.00 a.m. Arriving still bleary-eyed at about 7.45, the queue already snaked along the front of the Dyson building and around the corner. There were some die-hard buyers who had camped out overnight to get to the front of the queue. However, they were not the first into the sale. Those people who attended the exhibition were able to buy raffle tickets to give them a chance to be one of the first fifty people into the building. The coffee van parked in front of the building was doing a roaring trade.
We stood in the queue for over three hours in freezing cold weather, watching people come out of the building clutching buff coloured envelopes with their mini works of art enclosed in them. The Scribblaire wondered whether some of the thrilled looks on their faces were an indication of the treasures within or just relief at getting out of the queue. Because of the number of people in front of us, we and some of our new-found queue friends wondered what would be left for us. It was great fun to see some of the systems other people had developed to rank their selections which ranged from our relatively simple system to very complicated colour-coded and multi-starred approaches.
Once into the building the queue continued upstairs to a room full of students behind computer screens. TVs were positioned at the top of the stairs showing the works that were still available. Each selection is reviewed and checked on the system. If available, the work is reserved. We were fortunate to get four of our favourites and went to the next desk to pay our £200. At this point, we had no idea about which of our selection we had bought, let alone who the artists might be. Armed with the invoice, we went downstairs to the gallery and a runner went to collect the postcard art. The works we bought included the one above by Holly Slingsby, ‘Beach Huts Whitstable‘ by Wendy Asprey, a beautiful piece by Alan Plummer and what we thought was a Turner-esqe work by Emilia Ljungberg.
The Scribblaire is very pleased with the additions to our collection. Once framed, they will take pride of place in the dining room. We will definitely attend again next year, although we’ll make sure we visit the exhibition in person and do a bit more preparation in advance of the sale.