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Govt. gives $177 mln for Pushkin art museum restoration

MOSCOW, May 5 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian government will allocate over 4.2 billion rubles ($177 million) to restore the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday.

Speaking at a meeting of the board of trustees of Moscow's largest museum of European art, Medvedev said: "The funds have been earmarked. The amount of money exceeds 4.2 billion rubles. This is the base sum."

Media reports earlier said $380 million would be allocated from the federal budget for the museum's reconstruction and modernization. Reports also said reconstruction programs tended to cost twice as much as the sum initially quoted, as was the case with the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The classical collections of Botticelli, Rembrandt, Magnasco, Guardi, Rubens, Fayum portraits, as well as the pharaohs, and antique replicas will be closed to the public from 2009 until 2012, when the museum will celebrate its 100-year anniversary.

The museum will be turned into a major complex comprising two exhibition centers, a library, a larger repository, archives, a modern 600-seat concert hall, an office building and an underground parking lot all linked by underground passages to accommodate cafes and souvenir stores. Its total area is planned to be increased fourfold.

Irina Antonova, who has run the museum since 1962, said after the meeting that the board of trustees would be headed by the economics minister, Elvira Nabiullina. She will replace Medvedev, who will be sworn in as president on May 7.

Pressing for the reconstruction, Antonova earlier said the condition of parts of the museum building was putting the art collection in danger.

"The main museum building is beautiful, but it is decaying and needs modernization," she said.

Award-winning British architect Lord Norman Foster, known for his futuristic style, was earlier reported to be leading the program to modernize and expand the museum complex.

The museum is expected to rent some of its premises to private investors after the restoration work.

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