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
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week