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Büchel’s Venice mosque to stay shut

Court won’t hear case until Biennale ends

A temporary mosque set up inside a deconsecrated church in Venice by the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel will not be reopened. A Venetian court has, in effect, killed the project by declining to fast-track a motion seeking its reinstatement. Commissioned by the Icelandic Art Center (IAC) in Reykjavik, it was Iceland’s official contribution to the Venice Biennale, which ends on 22 November.

The city’s first and only mosque in modern times opened on 8 May in the disused church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in the Cannaregio area of the city. Hundreds of Muslims attended it in the project’s short run. But just 14 days later it was shut down by city authorities, who said the initiative breached numerous health and safety regulations and that Büchel had obtained permits only for an art project, not a functioning religious building. The IAC appealed, seeking the immediate reopening of the mosque as well as €360,000 in compensation from the city of Venice.

The supervisory court for the Veneto region rejected on 31 July the IAC’s request to expedite the case and on 4 August the IAC decided to withdraw its appeal, stating on its website: “It is clear that the court will not rule until after the Biennale”. Although the IAC says it will “seek possible alternative ways” to keep the project accessible for the remainder of the Biennale, the court’s decision makes it impossible to reopen the mosque in its original location.