Mike Nelson turns Monaco bank into an ultramarine blue underworld

Every surface, from the Baroque staircase and underground vaults, has been daubed for the hallucinogenic project

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The artist Mike Nelson, who represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2011, has created an off-site installation for the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM), in the UBS bank building on the Avenue de Grande-Bretagne, in Monaco.

The installation, called Cloak 2016 (until 15 September; viewings by appointment), is curated by Suad Garayeva-Maleki, the chief curator and collection director of the Baku-based Yarat Contemporary Art Centre, and Cristiano Raimondi, the head of development and international projects at the NMNM.

The entire interior of the building, which is currently closed for renovation, has been coloured in ultramarine blue. The uniform spread of colour throughout the bank’s eight floors is intended to create an almost hypnotic or hallucinogenic experience for visitors, who have to make their way through maze-like rooms and corridors before eventually reaching the building’s roof terrace, from where they can admire the Mediterranean Sea.

Every single wall and surface of the abandoned building, which still contains some furniture and discarded items belonging to former employees, had to be primed before being painted and glazed, in order to achieve a uniform colour, from the underground vaults and IT server rooms— “these floors feel the most disorientating,” Garayeva-Maleki says, “as if the blue space is about to close in on the viewer”—to the Baroque staircase and spacious rooms on the upper floors.

However, the show is not just intended to be a sensory experience, but carries studied art-historical references too. The curators are keen to highlight the historical and financial importance of ultramarine blue, the pigment of which was traditionally derived from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone found only in the mines of Afghanistan. 

“Lapis lazuli was a valuable commodity, at one point more expensive than gold. It’s a fixture in some of the most expensive commissions throughout art history and it was also one of the first goods traded with the East,” Garayeva-Maleki says. “Banks are now symbols of the contemporary commodity trade, and ultramarine blue evokes that history and the problems associated with it. It is also a reference to Yves Klein’s blue, who was himself from the Cote d’Azur.”

Monaco, meanwhile, is commonly associated with finance and luxury goods; a show of this kind not only makes use of a great space pre-renovation, but also puts the small Principality on the cultural map. The project is funded by NMNM and supported by UBS, and was logistically supported by the Turin-based Galleria Franco Noero.

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