As fine art auctions have come to inflect almost every type of commercial exchange the world can offer, it’s common nowadays to see items on the auction circuit that don’t fall within the narrow confines of portraiture or ancient iconography. It’s also quite normal for charity auctions to include attention-grabbing items, and on Monday, Rolls-Royce released images of just such an item: a custom-designed Bespoke Red Phantom that will be auctioned exclusively online by Sotheby’s and unveiled in Miami on December 4. The car has been exclusively commissioned to benefit the global AIDS-eradication charity (RED), and the winning bidder will also have the opportunity to decorate the vehicle with a unique wrap made by the contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas.
The wrap (which, for the uninitiated, is somewhat like new wallpaper applied to a car’s exterior) will be created by Thomas for the collector who ultimately purchases the Rolls, so it’s currently unclear what her design will look like. However, if Thomas’ bedazzled, brightly colored paintings that brought her initial fame in the early 2000s are anything to go by, the vehicle’s interior is sure to be elaborate—and potentially distracting to other drivers.
For the past couple of years, Sotheby’s has generated impressive numbers with its collaborative (RED) Auctions: in 2018, the auction house generated $5,553,000 for charity with the sale of items such as Jet People by Hank Willis Thomas, Washington Skeleton™ (RED) Side Chair [Set of Four] by Sir David Adjaye and other such spectacular sculptures and flawlessly rendered Zaha Hadid coffee tables. The addition of a custom-made Rolls-Royce to the 2019 docket is an indication that luxury vehicle manufacturers are aware that auctioning off their products for the benefit of charity aligns their brand with philanthropy in a positive way. Plus, this places Rolls-Royce firmly in conversation with the art world, which adds another dose of neutral legitimacy.
And in and of itself, the custom Rolls-Royce in question is a crazy car: its exterior coating is embedded with “particles of crystal” and it boasts a handcrafted, red-and-white leather interior. Throughout Art Basel Miami Beach, which is coming up this week, patrons who come across this vehicle while it’s on display at the One Thousand Museum will certainly find it difficult to look away.