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Russia’s richest man unveils new Moscow arts centre

Gas tycoon Leonid Mikhelson is normally seen inking deals and meeting President Vladimir Putin, but on Tuesday Russia’s richest man rubbed elbows with the cultural crowd as he showcased a new Moscow arts centre. The GES-2 venue in central Moscow, financed by Mikhelson’s VAC foundation, is located in a century-old power-plant that is being redesigned with great pomp by Italian ‘starchitect’ Renzo Piano.

The enormous space is set to house galleries, cafes and art residencies, and is to open its doors in September 2020, Mikhelson told a press-conference. The billionaire toured the cathedral-like site Monday, accompanied by daughter Victoria and the frail-looking, 82-year-old Piano. At the press conference, Piano recounted that when the two first saw the power plant, he told Mikhelson “he had to buy all the buildings around to demolish them and let light flood the place,” a major task in a neighbourhood just across the river from the Kremlin.

“And he did it,” Piano said. “The owner is a good guy.” Sitting on the Moscow river, the venue keeps the original 1907 structure of the power plant which had supplied the Kremlin with electricity, but which will now have solar panels on the roof to consume less energy, and a birch grove. Mikhelson’s fortune is valued at $27.3 billion, the largest in Russia, according to the 2019 Forbes ranking.

He is the founder and chief of Novatek, the largest private gas group in Russia, which is currently under US sanctions, and a shareholder of the Sibur petrochemical company. “I’ve built many things in my life… but this project is the most important to me,” Mikhelson told journalists. Asked about the cost of the arts venue, which is being built by the same construction companies as Mikhelson’s Arctic natural gas facilities, he said he had to “double what he initially planned,” without elaborating.
An avid art collector, Mikhelson has amassed $200 million worth of works by Francis Bacon, Amedeo Modigliani, Gerhard Richter and others, which will find their way into GES-2. The project is the first tangible arts venue built by Mikhelson, following a similar modern space built by Roman Abramovich in Moscow. Many Russian billionaires run arts-related charities, make sizable contributions to western cultural institutions or support and purchase art for Russian museums.-AFP

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