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Georgy Costakis. Departure from the USSR. On the 100th anniversary of the Collector

12 november 2014 — 8 february 2015
Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation | The State Tretyakov Gallery

10 Krymsky Val, halls 60-61
How to Get Here, Opening Tmes


The State Tretyakov Gallery is proud to present its latest exhibition dedicated to the celebrated collector and creator of one of the most significant private art collections of the 20th century according to both quality and scale; George Dionisovich Costakis (1913-1990). His entrepreneurial intuition and natural artistic taste enabled him to discover and preserve unique works of Russian icon painting, the avant-garde and non-conformism. Costakis’s activity revived the tradition of the great Russian patrons which had seemingly been cut short; the collections of figures such as P.M. Tretyakov, I.A.Morosov, I.S.Ostroukhov and S.I. Shchukin influenced in many respects the culture of the time.

Aristarkh Lentulov. Landscape with gates.
Kislovodsck. 1913

The main aim of the exhibition is to acquaint viewers with the person of G.D.Costakis and his collection, and to inform them about the phenomenon of art collection in our country. Costakis is presented to the viewer as one of the leading lights in the cultural sphere of 1960s -1970s Moscow. His home was a place where young artists could become acquainted with the works of the Russian avant-garde which were not exhibited elsewhere. Ambassadors, diplomats, directors of large foreign museums all strove at various times to see the legendary collection.  With the help of a specially organised space, an image of Costakis’s famous apartment has been reconstructed for the exhibition. 

A Greek national, G.D. Costakis was born in Moscow and spent most of his life there working in the Canadian embassy. He initially started accumulating works of Dutch artists, but the course of his collecting activity soon changed. Costakis was the first collector who understood the value of the art of the Russian avant-garde. Costakis acquired the works which his contemporaries dismissed as “needless rubbish” from the artists and their successors themselves, thereby providing them with material support.  He saved many works from ruin and destruction. By the end of the 1980s the accumulated “rubbish” of the “Greek-eccentric” had become one of the most valuable collections in the world.

Even in the 1970s, Costakis dreamed about a time when a museum of modern art would be built in Russia, a place where his entire avant-garde collection and the works of artists engaging in an alternative soviet art could be preserved.  The strained atmosphere created by the special “attention” lavished on the collector by members of the security forces, and the worsening of Costakis’s health, eventually ensured that in 1977 he had little choice but to make the decision to move abroad. He officially bestowed a significant part of his collection on the Soviet government as a gift.  The offer was accepted, despite going against official policy in the area of culture. By special decree of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Costakis and his family were permitted to leave the country and, by way of exception, to take the remaining part of the collection with them abroad. Their right to return to the USSR and to permanent residence there was also guaranteed in the case of an appropriate appeal. Before his departure Costakis donated his collection of icons to the Andrei Rublev Museum of Ancient Russian Art.  N.M. Tsereteli’s unique collection of folk toys, which Costakis had acquired at one time and thereby saved, was also given to the state; in the 1990s this collection became a part of the Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve.

Kazimir Malevich. Portrait of
M.V.Matyushin. 1913

The most significant and valuable part of Costakis’s donation, his collection of works of the avant-garde, came into the possession of the Tretyakov Gallery; it numbered 142 paintings and 692 works of graphic art, and represented the names of over 40 Russian artists. Thanks to Costakis’s donation the Gallery’s collection has been expanded with masterpieces of worldwide significance, such as K.C. Malevich’s “Portrait of Matyushin”, P.N. Filonov’s “Shostakovich's Symphony”, V.V. Kandinsky’s “Red Square”, L.C. Popova’s “"Painterly Architectonic: Black, Red, Grey”, and I.V.Kliun’s “Fleeting Landscape”. Selected works from the middle of the 1980s are housed in the museum’s permanent collection, and regularly exhibited in the worlds largest museums.

From the end of the 1970s, the works officially taken by Costakis abroad travelled all over the world, and in so doing increased the popularity of the Russian avant-garde in Europe and America. In 2000 the Greek government acquired these works and they formed the basis of the Museum of Modern Art in Saloniki. 

Preparation for this large-scale exhibition project has taken several years. In 2013 – the 100th anniversary of the birth of the collector – an information hall dedicated to G.D. Costakis and the history of his collection was opened in the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val. 

The current exhibition includes over 200 exhibits and reflects Costakis’s wide range of interests: icon painting of the 15th to 18th centuries, masterpieces of the Russian avant-garde (among them the works of V.V. Kandinksy, K.S. Malevich, S.B.Nikritin, L.S.Popova, K.N.Redko, P.N. Filonov, M.Z. Chagal, A.A.Ekster), the work of nonconformist artists such as A.T. Zverev, F. Infante-Aran, L.E. Kropivnitsky, O.Y. Rabin among others, and folk toys.  Viewers will also see the artistic experiments of Costakis himself at the exhibition. 

Kliment Redko. Insurrection. 1925

Previously non-exhibited works of several artists have been specially restored for this exhibition; for example,  V.N. Chekrygin’s “Portrait of a Man” (1914), K.S.Petrov-Vodkin’s “On the Tram” (1936), A.M.Rodchenko’s double-sided works, “Surrealist Abstraction” (1943) and “Wrestlers” (1935-1938),  revealed for the first time, and I.V.Kluin’s “Self-portrait” (1909-1910) and “Suprematist Composition” (1910s).

The display of documents regarding the transfer of Costakis’s collection to the state, which were only de-classified in 2011, will no doubt cause a stir. They reveal the complex decision-making process as the fate of Costakis and his paintings was argued. 

For reasons beyond the control of the State Tretyakov Gallery, it has not been possible to display the works from the Saloniki Museum of Modern Art at this exhibition. A significant number of the Museum’s works are printed in the album-catalogue specially prepared for the exhibition.  They also appear in the video which will be shown at the exposition. Multimedia technology also allows viewers to familiarize themselves with rare books of the 1910s – 1930s and propaganda porcelain, with books from the collection of the Greek museum showing the autographs of the guests who visited the collector’s apartment, and with Costakis’s correspondence with artists and international cultural figures from the archive of the collector’s family. 

The publication of the exhibition’s album-catalogue has proved to be an important event. Its pages include an exhaustive history of the collection, recounted for the first time, Costakis’s biography, and previously classified documents of the 1970s.  The album contains both well-known and previously unpublished works from Costakis’s collection, as well as his own creations with commentaries.  The publication also includes articles from members of the collector’s family, his friends and various artists. 

A special internet project, a joint venture of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the leading internet-publication “”, is also being developed to accompany the exhibition, introducing G.D.Costakis and his collection to internet users worldwide.



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