“Leave it to the community,” was the phrase used to explain Büchel’s involvement. One could read that as either the ultimate artistic alchemy or elitist irresponsibility. But, in debates like these, it’s important to remember rule number one of six for constructive criticism, according to John Updike: “Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.” In this case, Büchel explicitly cited that his project was one of cataclysm—toss the chemicals into the pot and let them interact. We are in an age where the boundaries and limits of art are not a relevant discussion. (Those limits are beyond stretched.) If for “All the World’s Futures,” Enwezor can commission artists to simply read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, with no addendums, alterations, or interpretations, then surely Büchel’s pavilion is as much a work of performance art.
It goes without saying that some degree of Islamophobia is present in both the city of Venice’s reaction and the art world’s general complicity. “THE MOSQUE,” even though it was made by an artist of neither Muslim nor Middle Eastern descent, advocates an attitude that can still fall foul of certain populist sensibilities in the West (and particularly among those smitten with resurgent far-right movements in Europe): Muslims are normal people. In fact, if you think about it, the work is sort of boring. It’s the apotheosis of normcore: people going about their daily lives, their daily rituals, and their desires to socialize with others in their self-identified community.