Or at least that's what it first feels like when entering the stately Villa Paloma. Beautifully restored to its former glory, complete with intricate tiled floors, marble stairways and ornate stained glass windows, it forms half of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. Perched high in the hills, and surrounded by the exuberant vegetation of the justly-famous Jardin Exotique, the terrace of the Villa terrace provides a panoramic view of the Principality of Monaco.
The shot above, taken during my recent visit to the Villa, pretty much tells you all you need to know about Monaco: simultaneously the second smallest and most densely populated city in the world, thanks to its apartment-dwelling community of the extremely rich, it remains dominated by the Rock. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco with a firm hand from the palace in that elevated position for more than 700 years.
So to turn from that calm, blissful vista and be engulfed by the tumultuous imagery of the current exhibition of Gilbert & George's work at the Villa (shown at right), provides an almost visceral shock. Spread across three floors, the forty works by the British art duo, many of them large and brightly colored, are relentless in their intensity. Spanning four decades of work, much of the imagery is drawn from London's East End, their long-time base, with the duo famously saying that "Nothing happens in the world that doesn't happen in the East End."
Perhaps, although the content of the work certainly seems light years away from the sun-drenched shores of this tax haven for the happy few. But wait, the exhibition catalog tells us that all the pictures come from the collection of a Monaco-based family! So then what does it all mean? Welcome to the paradoxical world of Gilbert & George. The show runs until November 2, 2014 and is well worth the visit. For more recent examples of their work, check out the exhibition at White Cube in London, running until September 28.