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Chiesa di San Lorenzo

Ocean Space reintegrates the historic Church of San Lorenzo back into the cultural fabric of Venice, after two years of conservation and renewal and more than 100 years of being largely closed to the public. For many, the opening of Ocean Space is the first moment in living memory when it is possible to experience this magnificent and enigmatic architectural structure.

Internal view of the Church of San Lorenzo, Ocean Space, 2020. Photo: Marco Cappelletti
© TBA21–Academy

Fabled as the final resting place of Marco Polo, the Church of San Lorenzo dates back to the ninth century. Recognizable by its rough and unfinished facade, the current structure was built at the end of the sixteenth century based on a design by architect Simone Sorella. Inside, a rare and brilliant double-sided altar with three openings by sculptor Girolamo Campagna divides the space, creating two separate naves: the first intended for the public, the second reserved for the adjacent Benedictine monastery.

The church suffered damages during the Napoleonic War and, in 1810, was deconsecrated and all decorations except the main altar were removed. It closed to the public in 1865 and, in the early twentieth century, underwent a series of archaeological excavations, in search of the remains of Marco Polo.

The Church of San Lorenzo has been the site for temporary installations over the past few decades, most notably Renzo Piano’s architectural intervention for the premiere of Luigi Nono’s opera “Prometeo. Tragedia dell'ascolto”, as part of the international contemporary music festival at Biennale di Venezia in 1984, and a sound installation by artist Ariel Guzik for the 2013 Mexican Pavilion of the Biennale.

Since 2016, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza has led the complex conservation project of the Church of San Lorenzo through her foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. As part of her philanthropic activities she entrusted TBA21–Academy to bring the building back to life and open it up to the community for an active and regenerative use, as Ocean Space.

Ocean Space opened to the public in 2019 with the exhibition “Moving Off the Land II” by Joan Jonas, having been largely closed to the public for over 100 years and after extensive renovations, which were finished in early 2020.

Photo: Marco Cappelletti