Rome, Italy: Nero Publishing, 2016
168 pp., 17 x 22.5 cm., hardcover
Edition of 500
The deep blue colour Ultramarine is a pigment originally made by grinding the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli into a powder. It was the most expensive blue used by Renaissance painters, frequently employed for the robes of the Virgin Mary, in works by Masaccio, Pietro Perugino and others. Vermeer also made extensive use of ultramarine in his paintings, perhaps most notably in Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Last year Mike Nelson painted every single room in the United Bank of Switzerland in Monaco using (presumably the newer synthetic) Ultramarine. The UBS building (2 Avenue de Grande Bretagne) was closed for renovation at the time, allowing Nelson access to all seven floors. Every detail was covered in the pigment that was once more valuable than gold.
Presented by the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Nelson's project explored notions of economic value and luxury goods, both of which are closely associated with the city-state of Monaco. The work also nods to Yves Klein (whose International Klein Blue is very close to ultramarine) and David Hammons' Concerto in Black and Blue (which used blue light to similar effect).
Visitors entered the immersive environment and were led through the rooms up to the sun-bleached rooftop terrace, where they were offered a respite from the hallucinogenic claustraphobic blue rooms, before being reimmersed for the trip back down.
Nero Publishing's elegant document of the project is printed with a custom offset plates separation (cyan+black+reflex blue) that beautifully translates the ultramarine blue used by Nelson in the installation. The only instances of non-blue in the book (which features an all-blue dust jacket) are presented as fold out pages.
Cloak is available from the publishers, here. It is also available in the UK at Amazon.co.uk and at Tender Books.