Police return dismantled church to Italy in US art row

ROME (AFP) - A church in southern Italy dismantled by an artist who planned to rebuild it at New York's Museum of Modern Art is being returned to its original site, Italian police said on Saturday.

Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli last year carefully took apart and wrapped up the pretty church in the small village of Montegiordano in Calabria, built at the end of the 19th century and later desecrated - much to the horror of local inhabitants, who said it was national heritage.

Their protests sparked an investigation by the local cultural superintendent in Cosenza and the shipment out of Italy was blocked in October, with police seizing the huge crates of stones in a hangar in the local port.

"The sections of the church were found in the port of Gioia Tauro, perfectly packaged and arranged in 11 containers, ready to be sent to the United States, without any export authorisation. They are now being returned to Montegiordano," the police said in a statement on Saturday.

The church had originally been expected to figure in the heart of one of the world's top contemporary art museums, the MoMA PS1 in the Long Island City neighbourhood of New York.

Vezzoli, 42, a popular and controversial artist and filmmaker from northern Italy, aimed to rebuild it as part of his "Trinity" project on art, religion and glamour - a series of exhibitions being shown at the MOMA, the MOCA in Los Angeles and the MAXXI in Rome.

When the dispute began last year, he insisted that he bought the Montegiordano church on the Internet and had all the permits to proceed to New York, where he planned to project his video works onto its rough stone shell.

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