George Costakis

George Costakis: A Russian Life in Art

PETER ROBERTS
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qf3t9
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  • Book Info
    George Costakis
    Book Description:

    This splendid book paints a rich portrait of the Russian avant-garde and the intrigues which it saved for posterity. Roberts has written a fascinating history of the famous Costakis collection and its creator

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7381-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. A NOTE ON SPELLING
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. CHAPTER I THE TURN OF THE WHEEL
    (pp. 1-10)

    In January 1978, Georgii Dionisovich Kostaki, or George Costakis as he is called in the West, boarded a plane at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow and left Russia forever, as he thought. He was sixty-six. With him he took his wife Zina, his daughter Lilya, and his son Sasha. And he took twenty percent by value of his collection of Russian avant-garde art, one of the world s great modem art collections. With him went also personal memories of every important event of Soviet history: revolution, civil war, Lenin and Trotsky, Stalin’s rise to power, forced collectivization, terror and the gulag,...

  8. CHAPTER II AN ORDINARY RUSSIAN
    (pp. 11-34)

    When the last Romanov Czar abdicated in April 1917, George Costakis was four-and-a-half years old and living with his parents and brothers and sister in Moscow. He was five when the Bolsheviks seized power from Kerensky’s provisional government and established the Soviet state.

    By that time Russia had been in political turmoil for at least twenty years. Czar Nicholas II, who came to power in 1894, was a narrow-minded autocrat who showed no capacity for dealing with any of the problems facing the country: hunger in the villages, misery among the urban industrial working population, and after 1914 a steadily...

  9. CHAPTER III THE RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDE
    (pp. 35-50)

    Even the most assiduous art historians do not trace the roots of the Russian avant-garde movement further back than the middle of the nineteenth century. Some think even that too far. The first paintings which can be reasonably assigned to it did not appear until 1910. By 1925 the movement was moribund; by 1935 in Russia, it was dead. There were still practitioners working abroad, and the influence of the movement was even then world wide. But as a Russian phenomenon, the avant-garde was gone.

    In those years, at most no more than a lifetime, fewer than fifty Russian artists...

  10. CHAPTER IV LAYING DOWN THE COLLECTION
    (pp. 51-76)

    Writers about Costakis have correctly noted that he stands in a long Russian tradition, that of collecting. Peter the Great started it, his interest focused, as in so much else, on Western Europe rather than on Russia itself. In the eighteenth century, Catherine II continued the tradition with massive acquisitions, describing herself as a glutton rather than a lover of art. In the nineteenth century, merchants imported Western art in bulk to fill the galleries of the great houses they were building for themselves. In the middle of the century one great art enthusiast, Pavel Tretyakov, departed from the practice...

  11. CHAPTER V THE MATURE COLLECTOR
    (pp. 77-90)

    Costakis was a collector of many things. The avant-garde was certainly the collection which made his name and set him apart from the other collectors of our time. But he was a major collector of icons, nearly all of which stayed behind in Russia. He had a priceless collection of old Russian toys, which he refused to count among his achievements because he bought it as a collection rather than assembling it laboriously piece by piece. He had some important holdings of native art, the art of the Chukchi people in the far northeast of Siberia. And he had, until...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER VI THE CANADIAN CONNECTION
    (pp. 91-116)

    I started at the Canadian Embassy in 1943. The ambassador was Dana Wilgress, with his wife Olga. They both spoke Russian. And I have to say that if it had not been for the Canadian embassy, if I had not found a job there and worked there all those years, probably my ... no, not probably, but certainly, my life would have been totally different and there would have been no Costakis collection.

    Thus said an emotional Costakis in 1987. He probably exaggerated. Certainly his job in the embassy helped him collect. But his drive to collect was so formidable...

  14. CHAPTER VII FACING THE APPARATCHIKS
    (pp. 117-148)

    Canadian and most other embassies all over the world function with the help of citizens of the country they are in, or of third countries. These “locally engaged staff” (LES), as they are called in the Canadian foreign service, do most of the menial work: driving, cleaning, cooking, serving at table, tending the embassy garden. But they also do more responsible things. Some, like Costakis, administer. Others deal with the problems of travelling Canadians, who may have fallen ill, lost their passports, or been arrested. Still others help to promote Canadian exports to the country concerned. Large numbers are involved...

  15. CHAPTER VIII THE COSTAKIS COLLECTION IN THE WORLD
    (pp. 149-182)

    The history of the Costakis collection is part of the cultural history of Russia since World War II, and like many other parts of that history it is a matter of success and fame bringing with them embarrassment and danger, to the point where the artist or collector had to choose conformity, silence, or emigration. Costakis’ situation was less difficult than that of Solzhenitsyn, Shostakovich, Brodsky, or Pasternak. The works he was dealing with were, after all, seen as harmless, at least after 1953. Once Stalin and Zhdanov had left the scene, the state found little to worry about in...

  16. CHAPTER IX BRIDGEHEADS
    (pp. 183-198)

    The work George Costakis did between 1946 and 1978, and the collection resulting from it, is the single most important bond linking the artistic and cultural life of Russia with its pre-Stalinist past.

    Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist party in 1985. By 1986 it was clear that he was serious about his reform program, its political and cultural aspects as well as its economic ones. However, as the poet Andrei Sinyavsky remarked, it turned out to be easier to publishDoctor Zhivagothan to make a decent salami, and in truth perestroika (restructuring) prospered much more...

  17. CHAPTER X THE MAN COSTAKIS IN THE WORLD OF ART
    (pp. 199-218)

    Costakis’ greatest concern was the future of his collection. Early in 1990 he decided to test the market, and instructed Sotheby’s, the international auction house, to put up for sale twenty works from the collection as well as four of his own paintings. The auction took place in London on April 4 and was a near-total failure. Seventy-six percent of the works (by value) went unsold; the London newspapers next day used the words “disaster” and “catastrophe” to describe what had happened. There was public speculation that the failure marked the beginning of the end of the fantastic prices which...

  18. INDEX
    (pp. 219-224)