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Bulgaria opens first contemporary art museum

Bulgaria opened its first contemporary art museum and the first new major art venue for the past 30 years on Friday in an old munitions depot in downtown Sofia.

The Sofia Arsenal Museum of Contemporary Art (SAMCA), a 1.2-million-euro ($1.7-million) project featuring a state-of-the-art steel-and-glass staircase encompassing the whole facade of the old building, was funded with grants from the governments of Norway, Iceland and Luxembourg.

"This is the first museum of contemporary art not only in Sofia but in Bulgaria as a whole," Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova cheered at the opening, attended by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and several government members.

The museum opened with an applied arts exhibition by Norwegian artists and has also put on display its still-limited collection: several oils by Bulgarian artists along with lithographs by Bulgarian-born Christo, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

The first few sculptures of a planned outdoors exhibition could meanwhile be seen on the lawns around the museum, which also plans to host a much-needed artworks storage facility.

Earlier Friday, Borisov had signed two grant memorandums with Norway, pledging an additional 126.6 million euros for projects in Bulgaria, including another 2.5 million euros for the new museum.

Government ministers meanwhile promised at the opening to start allocating money in the country's budget from 2012 onwards for artworks to fill Bulgaria's museum collections.

No Bulgarian museum has had enough funds to buy artworks since the fall of communism in 1989.

The government also plans to open by the end of the year Bulgaria's first museum of totalitarian art as well as another downtown major art venue, nicknamed the Bulgarian Louvre.