Riot police stormed the area surrounding the Lithuanian pavilion at the Venice Biennale on Sunday, after a visitor alerted the authorities to a suspected bomb threat. According to the local newspaper La Nuova, a quarrel broke out between several people queuing to see the Golden Lion-winning exhibition Sun & Sea, with claims that an unidentified man made threatening comments to a group of women before pulling a device out of his jacket and pressing the button. After clearing the area, the authorities declared that it had been a false alarm. Around 100 people had been queuing in the rain—some for almost two hours—to see the venue at Campo de la Celestia.
According to eye-witness reports, at 12.30pm a member of military personnel locked the entrance gate to the Lithuanian pavilion site, which is located within military grounds, only unlocking it to let people leave. At the time no reason was given for the closure, pavilion staff say.
At 12.50pm, three members of the Carabinieri (Italian military police) arrived and spoke with the guard at the gate. Some visitors were then allowed to enter the grounds and make their way to the pavilion to watch a scheduled performance that was, by then, almost completely unattended.
Shortly after, riot police and additional Carabinieri attended the scene and ordered everyone who was still outside the pavilion to leave the area immediately. “One minute I was chatting to friends and the next thing I knew we were being mobbed by police," says Wayne Chisnall, a British artist who was in the queue at the time. "Some of them were in full riot gear—helmets, shields, and machine guns—shouting 'Go, go, go'. It was very menacing,” he adds.
Miles Evans, a spokesman for the pavilion, confirms that the closure was a false alarm. "We think someone called the police due to a private altercation in the queue. We were able to let people back in after 40 minutes or so," he says. He adds: "The audiences have been incredible and we’ve been overwhelmed by such positive and heartfelt responses of those who came to see Sun & Sea. And then we won The Golden Lion which is beyond our wildest dreams.”
A spokesman for the Italian police was not immediately available for comment.
• The Sun & Sea performance at the Lithuanian pavilion runs every Saturday. See the website for further details.