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Officials Threaten to Close Mosque Installation at Venice Biennale
by Randy Kennedy
A provocative art installation in the form of a functioning mosque opened here on Friday for prayers, attended by dozens of Muslim worshipers who were outnumbered through much of the day by art spectators crowding the city for the 56th Venice Biennale.
The project, by the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel, serves as Iceland's national pavilion for the Biennale and is intended in part to highlight the absence of a mosque in the historic heart of Venice, a city whose art and architecture were deeply influenced by Islamic trade and culture. But the idea has upset Venetian city officials and police authorities, who have warned that the mosque poses a security threat because of possible violence either by anti-Islamic extremists or Islamic extremists upset that the mosque has been created inside a disused Catholic church. City officials have also argued that special legal permission is needed within Venice to create a place of worship, and they have rejected claims by Mr. Büchel and Icelandic art officials that the mosque is a simply a work of art functioning as a place of worship.
In a letter from the city on Friday morning to Bjorg Stefansdottir, the director of the Icelandic Art Center and the commissioner of Iceland's pavilion, municipal officials warned that the installation, in the Cannaregio neighborhood, would not be allowed to continue if it functioned as a place of worship.
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