Maxxi modern art gallery opens to the public in Rome

Maxxi art gallery in Rome, Italy (27 May 2010) The gallery stands out amid the historic buildings of the capital

A new modern art gallery in the Italian capital Rome has opened to the public for the first time.

The Maxxi cost $200m (£138m) to build and will house hundreds of contemporary pieces as well as hosting lectures and workshops.

The building was designed by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, who began work on the project 11 years ago.

She said Rome had provided a unique setting for the 27,000 sq/m ultra modern building.

At a press opening on Thursday, she praised the "fantastic light" in the city.

"The idea of this project is about layering and bringing in light to the space so that you have a naturally lit space.

Ms Hadid said the building gave curators "tremendous freedom in the way they can organise exhibits".

The new gallery is made up of two museums - one dedicated to art and the other to architecture.

Opening exhibits feature work from artists including Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor and South African artist William Kentridge.

Also on show is a retrospective of the work of Italian artist Gino De Dominicis, whose vast skeleton sculpture is displayed by the gallery entrance.

The Maxxi, officially called the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, had been due to open in 2005, but the project was delayed by funding debates.

It has been criticised by some for the rising cost and for its strikingly modern appearance in the historical city.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome says the city's ancient landmarks will continue to attract tourists in their millions but that the Maxxi offers something new for visitors with a taste for modernity.

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