Venice Biennale Implores Christoph Büchel to Return Migrant Ship to Sicily

Venice Biennale Implores Christoph Büchel to Return Migrant Ship to Sicily

More than a year after the fifty-eighth iteration of the Venice Biennale closed, Christoph Büchel’s Barca Nostra, 2018–19, the hulking wreck of a ship that carried more than eight hundred Libyan migrants to a watery grave in the Mediterranean Sea, is still taking up space in the Arsenale, the shipyard that serves as one of the Biennale’s main venues, and Biennale officials are not happy about it, according to a report in The Art Newspaper this morning.The ship, which sank in 2015, was dredged up by the Italian Navy the following year and at Büchel’s expense was conveyed from Sicily to Venice, where it was meant to point up the migrant crisis in Europe. Following the Biennale’s end, in November 2019, the Swiss artist was to have returned the vessel to the Sicilian town of Augusta, where it would reside in a garden of remembrance for migrant lives lost at sea. However, the ship, whose presence at the Biennale generated a great deal of controversy, remains firmly in place, despite repeated pleas from event officials to the artist and his gallery to remove it.“Starting in November 2019, we have repeatedly asked Christoph Büchel and his gallery Hauser & Wirth, to respect the commitment the artist made to return [the boat] to its owner, the municipality of Augusta in Sicily, which loaned it to Büchel,” said the Biennale in a statement.Giuseppe Di Mare, the mayor of Augusta, which agreed to loan the ship to Büchel with the stipulation that he pay all associated transport costs, acknowledged that “the Biennale and our municipality are involved in a dispute with Büchel for the return of the boat to Augusta,” and cited a desire not to have to resort to “further action.”Hauser & Wirth, Büchel’s gallery, has denied responsibility for the ship. A Biennale spokesperson noted that “the boat’s cradle was damaged while it was being shipped here by the firm chosen by the artist and for which he is responsible.” Sources close to the work confirm that Büchel is currently engaged in a dispute with the shipping company regarding the damage, which prevents its easy removal, and say that he plans to have the vessel returned to its legal home as soon as the issue is resolved.

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