Venetian officials plan to close the Icelandic Pavilion of the 2015 Venice Biennale, which features a working mosque that is part of an artwork by Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel. The Art Newspaper reported that the “decision to close the mosque has been taken following an evaluation by a committee tasked with maintaining order and public safety.” The city also said that events, particularly Friday prayer gatherings, attracted more than the legal limit of 90 individuals. Though Venetian officials claim they notified the pavilion’s organizers of the impending closure today, giving them a 60-day window to appeal the decision, a spokesperson for the pavilion told The Art Newspaper that they were not informed of the city’s decision to close the mosque.
The project, which transformed a deconsecrated Catholic church in the Cannaregio neighborhood into a generic mosque, had already upset Catholic authorities and Venetian city officials, who say they were never consulted for anything more than an art exhibition.
In an open letter, Icelandic authorities are claiming the project has been a success, since it was
intended to shed light on institutionalized segregation and prejudices in society, including the conflicts that arise due to policies regarding immigration, which are pivotal in national and religious disputes all over the world. It is fair to say that this goal has been achieved. The art world, politicians, the general public, and people of all statures are discussing and debating this work, its role, message, and impact. Wherever you look people have an opinion about it and thus inherently become participants in the work’s success.
Büchel’s artwork was clearly designed to be provocative, and the commissioners of the Icelandic Pavilion are already trying to paint opponents of the project as bigots. Their open letter quotes left-wing Icelandic politician Ögmundur Jónasson saying: “The happening in Venice is a kind of touchstone of tolerance. Something seems to be lacking there. So the task is to discuss ways of opening our eyes, widening our horizons, and crawling out of the pits of bigotry.”
Update, May 22, 2pm ET: The “Mosque” project at the Icelandic Pavilion was closed today, Friday, May 22.