Arts: The secret is in the cards

Buy a postcard-sized work of art at a new show at the Royal College of Art and, who knows, you could be owner of a miniature masterpiece. By Kate Mikhail

THE ART world is not known for hectic sales where buyers camp out over night to snap up the work of their choice, but with originals by Peter Blake, this year's Jerwood Prize-winner, Prunella Clough and David Bowie going for pounds 35 a shot, it's not surprising that the Royal College of Art's show Absolut Secret sees the bargain hunters out in force.

There is a catch, of course, as what you see is not necessarily what you get. You may have bought an Antony Gormley, but then again you may have bought an unknown artist working in the style of Gormley. All signatures are out of sight on the back of the postcard-sized works of art - that's the "Secret" - and you won't know what you've picked until you have handed over your money and the exhibition has come to a close.

Only three people, including the curator Diana Charnley, are in the know, and they have been sworn to secrecy. And even if they could give out any clues there'd be little point, according to Charnley, as the artists' styles are rarely typical. "I've been quite surprised by some of the work that has come in," she says, "as it is not necessarily work you would associate with a particular artist who has been working for maybe 10 or 20 years."

A handful of the works will, however, be instantly recognisable, says Charnley, but for the most part punters will have to make an educated guess or simply buy from the heart. "It raises lots of serious questions about art in general," says Charnley, "because, as a potential purchaser, you are forced to buy an image because you like it, irrespective of the person who made it."

The fundraising event was first dreamt up by the RCA six years ago as a means of funding bursaries, lectures and student end-of-year shows. Absolut Vodka covers the costs so all the money spent on the art is ploughed back into the college. Jill Knock, the veteran buyer who now has 15 of the postcard miniatures to her name, believes it helps to have an eye for the style of the artists you're looking for. "I've got some Bellanies, a Maria Pacheco, a Bryan Kneale and a Nicola Hicks," she says. But that's not to say that all the most valuable works get red-stickered in the first five minutes. In some years, big-name postcards are left hanging around unsold until the 11th hour, if they get sold at all.

"I love the excitement of it," says Knock, explaining her addiction to the sale which sees her coming back year after year. "I love the fact that you have this little gem of a picture. It's a little piece of somebody - perhaps of an artist who is well known, but who I would never normally be able to afford."

Last year, armed with vacuum flasks, deck chairs and thick wool blankets, the most determined of the art shoppers started queuing at 6pm the day before the opening. By eight the following morning, the queue was snaking up the road and round the corner.

This year there will be up to 2,000 works by 400 artists, ranging from household names to students. A limit of six postcards a head means that there's no chance of striking lucky by doing a blanket buy, but a list of all the artists taking part helps buyers to know what to look out for.

Albert Irvin, who has submitted four works this year, is one artist who makes no attempt to fool the viewer by camouflaging his work. "There are a lot of students who do pastiches of different people's style. But I'm not playing games. I just do a small painting," he says.

Irvin, who has contributed something every year since the show's inception, believes that you don't have to strike gold to be a winner. "You can't make a mistake," he says. "At the very least, you'll like it, or you wouldn't have bought it in the first place. On the other hand, you could end up with what turns out to be quite a valuable work for peanuts."

Absolut Secret, sponsored by Absolut Vodka, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 (information hotline: 020-7590 4186). Viewing only, Thursday to 1 Dec, 10am-6pm. First day of sale 2 Dec, 8.30am-8pm, until 5 Dec, 10am-6pm

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there