Getting lucky at auction

The biggest art lucky dip including Paul Smith and Bill Viola opened on 'Friday the 13th'
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The Independent Online

Last week, we had "Friday the 13th", the alleged unluckiest day of the year and also the day that RCA Secret, the country’s biggest art lucky dip opened online and at RCA. The question of luck keeps following us around us this month; firstly the lottery jackpot winners, then the superstitious date and now the artistic gamble of sorts.

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RCA Secret really is a grown-up’s game of lucky dip. Buyers choose and pay for a piece of art unsure of its actual financial worth. Rather like grabbing the object that "feels" like it has the most potential in a barrel of sawdust, buyers will queue at RCA to buy artwork without knowing who it is created by (and hence, its financial value). The auction, when each piece of postcard-sized art sells for £40, is a one-day-sale on 21 November. As luck would have it, several of the art in the auction is is by very collectable artists, designers, the rest are by up-and-coming RCA students. But buyers only get to  see the signature on the reverse once they've paid up. Choosing your artwork is a healthy gamble.

Not only does this affordable art initiative raise huge sums for money every year – it is in aid of the Royal College of Art’s Fine Art Student Award Fund, it also allows the masses to enter into dreaming of owning masterpieces. This year, 1,016 contributors, including Yoko Ono, David Bailey, Bill Viola, Paul Smith and James Dyson (and many illustrious RCA alumni), have donated 2,700 postcard-sized pieces of art.

Most buyers treat RCA Secret as a lottery of sorts; if they can hunt down a piece by one of the celebrated artists, it may well be worth thousands. A watercolour postcard by fashionable British artist Peter Doig was bought at RCA Secret in 2000 for £40 and recently auctioned for £42,000 at Sotheby's. A postcard featuring a drawing of a skull by Damien Hirst was sold for £15,600 in 2004. Lucky buyers.

An understanding of the artists' style may help buyers choose their work meaning that it is not just a question of luck. Yet what makes this annual event retain its charm is that even to industry experts, it remains a guessing game. Contributor and fashion designer Paul Smith says of this year's entries, "I've been trying to identify who some of them might be by, the funny Biro drawing of the dog and the lady I think could be Paula Rego. I don't like the spooky ones, such as the flying skull, which I imagine is probably by the Chapman Brothers. That's the sort of thing they do. And the boy in the cage reminds me of them too — I wouldn't want either of those, except as an investment!"

Annie Deakin is Editor of