The exhibition “The Costakis Collection and the Russian avant-garde: Centennial anniversary of the collector’s birth” is dedicated to George Costakis, arguably the most important collector of Russian avant-garde art works in the world. Costakis was born in Moscow in 1913 and died in Athens in 1990.
His father was a merchant from Zante, who had settled with his family in Moscow. He spent most of his life in the Russian capital, working as a driver for the Greek embassy until 1940. When war broke out and the Greek embassy was shut down, Costakis became employed by the Canadian embassy. His duties involved accompanying foreign diplomats in their visits at antique shops and art houses. His lack of formal education in the arts and his little previous contact with contemporary art were more than compensated by his rare instinct and natural gift. Impressed by a painting he saw by Olga Rozanova, he became keenly interested in early twentieth-century Russian experimental art. He developed close ties with both the families and close circle of the artists, and with the surviving artists themselves, and for more than three decades he methodically collected works of the “Russian avant-garde.” He amassed a magnificent collection, saving this extremely important part of twentieth-century European art from destruction and oblivion. He often had to overcome great obstacles, since the Stalinist regime had proscribed the Russian avant-garde, imposing socialist realism as the new dogma in the arts. Costakis felt that overlooking the “Russian avant-garde” was a grave mistake, predicting that “one day, it will become both necessary and appreciated.” In 1977, Costakis left Moscow and moved to Greece, leaving a substantial part of his collection to the Tretyakov State Gallery. The Costakis collection at the State Museum of Contemporary Art consists of 1277 works (paintings, drawings, constructions, ceramics, etc.) by important artists of the Russian avant-garde, including K. Malevich, L. Popova, V. Tatlin, A. Rodchenko, I. Kliun, G. Klutsis, S. Nikritin, O. Rozanova, V. Stepanova, N. Udaltsova, M. Matiushin and P. Filonov. The collection is representative of all the trends and tendencies of the Russian avant-garde, one of the most groundbreaking and interesting periods in the history of international art, which flourished in Russia during the first three decades of the 20th century. The Costakis Collection is the most important collection of Russian avant-garde works of art (1900-1930) outside Russia, and has been presented internationally in many exhibitions in Europe and the US.
The State Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates the centenary of the birth of George Costakis with an extensive exhibition of his collection, covering all floors of the SMCA at Moni Lazariston. The exhibition presents a substantial part of the Costakis Collection and archives, with exhibits that follow the perception and method employed by the collector, thereby narrating the story behind his collection. The exhibition consists of three parts. The first part introduces the audience to the major movements of the Russian avant-garde, from the late symbolism of early 20th century, to cubo-futurism, suprematism, organic art and constructivism, to the eventual shift to representational art in the 1930s, shortly before the imposition of socialist realism.
The second part presents the choices and method of George Costakis, through brief monographs on individual artists, whose work is comprehensively represented in the collection, thereby underscoring
the structure of the collection itself. This second part is complemented by autobiographical notes written by George Costakis, which reveal his passion as a collector and his countless experiences and adventures while he was collecting this impressive number of important Russian avant-garde art works.
The third part of the exhibition presents items from his archive, personal items of the collector, as well as visitor books and photographs of his Moscow apartment, which had been turned during the 1960s and 1970s into an unofficial museum of modern art. His archive includes documents, photographs, posters, and instructive material from the art schools and workshops of the Russian avant-garde. The exhibits will be renewed during the exhibition, which will run from September 2013 until January 2014, to present the greatest number of works possible.
The exhibition is complemented by organized tours, lectures, concerts, book presentations and two seminars on the Russian avant-garde. The exhibition will also allow artists participating in the 4th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art to engage in fruitful dialogue.