It’s official: Christoph Büchel’s Venice Biennale mosque is closed to the public

Icelandic commissioner responds with statement saying biennale is no longer the place for free expression


Visitors to a temporary mosque set up by the Swiss artist Christoph Büchel in a deconsecrated church in Venice were turned away today, Friday 22 May.

The mosque, Iceland’s official contribution to the Venice Biennale, has been shut down just two weeks after opening and a notice from the local council has been posted on the door. The project’s organisers now have 60 days to lodge an appeal with the supervisory court for the Veneto Region.

The reason given for the closure is a breach of health and safety regulations: the number of visitors has exceeded the capacity of the building on a number of occasions, city officials say.

They also say they had not granted permission for a working mosque in the former church of Santa Maria della Misercordia in Cannaregio, but issued permits only for the installation of an art exhibition.

The temporary mosque, which contained all the elements required for an authentic house of worship, was supposed to stay open for the entire seven-month run of the Venice Biennale.

UPDATE: The Icelandic Art Center in Reykjavik, the organisation that commissioned the installation of a temporary mosque in a disused church in Venice, issued a statement today, 22 May, following the closure of the space by authorities in the Italian city.

The art centre expressed its disappointment at Venetian officials for shutting down the project after only two weeks. However its greatest criticism was directed at the biennale itself. “The administration of the Venice Biennale, an institution within the City of Venice, has not supported this artistic endeavour in the way that would have been expected for an organisation of its stature and proclaimed advocacy of contemporary art.”

“With the closing of the Icelandic contribution to the Venice Biennale, it has become clear that the biennale itself, which has for over a century been the premier stage for the visual arts worldwide, is not a venue for truly free artistic expression. Artists chosen to participate in the Biennale now appear only to be allowed to address issues that are acceptable to the local authorities.”

The Icelandic Art Center said that the purpose of Büchel’s mosque was to “to draw attention to the political institutionalisation of segregation and prejudice in society” and “to provide a platform for dialogue about and communication between different cultural positions”.