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Venice Police Declare Christoph Büchel’s Biennale Installation a Security Problem, Threaten to Shut It Down

Randy Kennedy reports in the New York Times that Swiss artist Christoph Büchel’s contribution to the Icelandic Pavilion at the Fifty-sixth Venice Biennale, a mosque installed in a former Catholic church and the first Mosque ever in the historic center of Venice, has been designated a “threat to safety” by local authorities in Venice. The project, titled THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice and installed in the tenth-century building of the Santa Maria dell'Abbazia della Misericordia, moved police to notify the Icelandic Art Center in mid-April of concerns about the location of the installation.

The mosque is located near a pedestrian bridge and police claim it will be difficult to provide safety surveillance around the area, arguing that the Icelandic pavilion requires surveillance due to “the current international situation and the possible risks of attack by some religious extremist.” Büchel and Nína Magnúsdóttir, the curator of the pavilion, have sought legal advice but intend to continue the project as planned and keep the mosque open to the public. Hamad Mahamed, who will be leading prayers there, said that it is an important project for the Muslim community because it will give them a chance “to show people what Islam is about, and not what people see in the media.”

The temporary mosque will remain operational until the Biennale ends in November.

UPDATE, May 11, 2015, 9:30 AM: City officials have argued that special legal permission is required to create a place of worship in Venice, and they have rejected claims by Büchel and Icelandic art officials that the mosque is simply a work of art functioning as a place of worship, reports Randy Kennedy in the New York Times. The municipality warned in a letter last Friday morning to Bjorg Stefansdottir, the director of the Icelandic Art Center and the commissioner of Iceland’s pavilion, that the installation would not be allowed to continue if it functioned as a place of worship.