It was the Casino that made Monte Carlo, and for most visitors it still oozes the glamour and glitz of Monaco. Its exterior is best viewed on a summer evening, in the golden light of the low sun, or at dusk when the facade is illuminated like a beacon against the darkening horizon. Unfortunately you can no longer admire the Belle Epoque building from afar as you stroll in the gardens past manicured beds of exotic plants. They have been buried temporarily beneath alien pods that are incubating clothes and accessories for permanently pubescent women. A serpentine path ensures the visitor passes every designer boutique before emerging onto Casino Square, where men in high-viz jackets steer aggregate-filled trucks towards the adjacent building site.
The Casino takes centre stage in its eponymous square, flanked by the Hotel de Paris, currently undergoing regeneration, and the Cafe de Paris. They are the holy trinity of the Principality, offering hope to reverent tourists who pray for a glimpse of royalty or venerable celebrity. It was a cloudy November afternoon on my most recent visit, but even on a chill autumn day tourists in short sleeves and flip flops were posing for selfies beside the Ferraris, and deals were being done on the Cafe terrace. I was more interested in the interior of the gaming palace.
You don’t have to dress up to gain entrance to Monte Carlo Casino, unless you plan a foray into the Salle Europe and beyond. My visit took me no further than the atrium and Charles Kaisin’s art installation, Let’s Fall in Diamonds. The Belgian designer has been engaged by the Societe des Bains de Mer (SBM) to give visitors a novel and memorable experience in the company of art and gambling. In April he organized a surrealist dinner to which only high rollers, celebrities and the very, very wealthy were invited. Plebs such as myself must make do with his small scale, interior version of something wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The atrium has been transformed into a nightmarish residence, highly unsuitable for anyone suffering from visual vertigo. Everything is camouflaged by fabric patterned with fit-inducing red and white diamond shapes. The meaning behind the madness is to reference both the white and red lozenges of the Prince of Monaco’s coat of arms, and the diamonds in a deck of playing cards. Bedroom walls, bed linen, rocking horse, bookcase and books, bath, lavatory and exercise bike, even the columns supporting the gallery have been covered. It is a punch on the nose, a visual shock to the system, intensified by the flashing lights of one-armed bandits in the gaming room next door.
I have to order a glass of red wine, 7 euros, Cote du Rhone, to calm my nerves. The wine is correct, as they say in France, served in a coloured glass that turns out to be plastic. Plastic! In Monte Carlo! Perhaps there have been a few accidents as visitors’ vision adjusts to the hallucinogenic drapery. As I sipped, I closed my eyes and noticed the muzak; a cover version of Chicago’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry. The playlist has been put together by a DJ compatriot of Kaisin, and next up Lana del Rey drones through Video Games. I lift up my eyes, searching for salvation, and I find it in the untouched ceiling, a trompe-l’oeul clear blue Riviera sky. At each corner a relief figure of Pan clutches horns of plenty, and with my readjusted sight, I now notice that a few of the atrium columns are naked, not ashamed to expose their veiny marble muscles.
Seal’s Kiss from a Rose provides the backing track for my last sip of wine, and I ponder what the high rollers think of the art. Perhaps they don’t even notice, such is their concentration on playing the game? Kaisin is planning another surrealist dinner for them at the beginning of December, taking his inspiration from Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard. The atrium is to throw off its ephemeral red and white diamonds to make way for a new winter installation. For the Casino’s sake, I hope it’s more of a silk purse than a sow’s ear.