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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Renzo Piano, project to build a museum of contemporary art in centrum of Moscow.

The Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson has begun to lift the veil on "the most important project of my life". The headquarters of the contemporary art foundation VAC (Victoria Art Contemporain), will be located in "GES-2", the former power plant that supplied the center of Moscow. A stone's throw from the Kremlin, GES-2, is now being rebuilt on the plans of the famous architect Renzo Piano (co-author, with Richard Rogers, Center Pompidou). A risky choice, because many Muscovites returning from Paris say about the Center Pompidou: "why this horror full of pipes in the center? "

During a press conference on October 29 at the Tass Agency, Leonid Mikhelson, visibly moved and intimidated, paid lip-service to the opening date of this much-anticipated new cultural venue: September 2020. Very discreet personality, the biggest fortune from Russia ($ 27.3 billion according to Forbes ) spun on pirouette not to give figures. "Bloomberg talks about $ 130 million," says a reporter. "It was a painful number," replies the businessman. "In the end, the sum is twice that painful figure," he quips to put an end to the discussion.

There is no doubt that the investment is considerable, given the size of the building and its complete reconfiguration. Even the foundations of the power station were redone, while the structure was temporarily elevated. The building, which will retain the name of GES-2, will have programming extending the VAC line, namely "work on the problematic areas of Russian history" and contemporary cultural processes.

The ambitious project, GES-2, will open its doors 12 years after the Garage Museum of billionaire Roman Abramovich and his ex-wife Daria Joukova, also devoted to contemporary art. More central than the Garage, GES-2 is symbolically located midway between the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum, two state institutions that have been long-time conservative but are now rapidly opening up to contemporary creation.

The billionaire, who recently came to contemporary art, made a fortune in hydrocarbons by building the country's first private gas group. Novatek, in which the French group Total owns 16% of the shares, produces almost a tenth of Russian gas and invests heavily in pharaonic projects in the Arctic. Leonid Mikhelson also controls the Sibur Petrochemical Group, which is rapidly emerging as a global plastic giant. Prudent and secret, staying away from political games, the businessman enjoys protection through his partner in Novatek and Sibur, Gennady Timchenko, an old friend of Vladimir Putin.

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