THE TURN OF THE WHEEL
The message the ambassador had to deliver was incredible in more than one way. First, there was to be an exhibition, to mark the opening of the new Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, of private collections donated to the Soviet state. Costakis’ collection, the collection of madmen’s scribbles and obscenities, would be represented by twenty works, most of them from the avant-garde. And as if that was not enough, the minister of culture of the USSR wished to invite Mr. and Mrs. Costakis to come to Moscow as his honoured guests to attend the opening. Costakis, who not so many years before had left the country in terror of the KGB, officially branded a traitor, could not believe what he was hearing. Art which for fifty years had been non-art to open the most prestigious museum in Russia, and a collector who was a traitor to be present as the minister’s guest?
His incredulity did not prevent his taking the next plane for Moscow. Zina was unwell and stayed in Athens. In Moscow, Costakis said, they did not actually put out a red carpet, but they did everything else. Official greeting at the airport, car and driver for as long as he wanted them, suite in Moscow’s most elegant old hotel, “with fruit and champagne on the table, and 130 roubles a week for expenses.” The next day, Costakis was received by the deputy minister of culture (who apologized for the absence of the minister), to whom he explained what the avant-garde was all about “and the mistakes they had made and so on.” This apparently went down well, because the deputy minister ended the meeting by saying, “Anytime you want to come, you will be our dear guest and we will do all we can to help you.” Costakis was dazed by it all; he recalled: “I went to the Beryezka [special shop for foreigners with foreign currency] and I bought lots of food, sturgeon, and caviar … and I invited about fifty of my old friends, painters and critics and photographers … and I did a wonderful reception. We finished about forty bottles of vodka, and it was just wonderful. And I found the boys very happy. And I went to the Canadian embassy and the charge d’affaires invited me to lunch, and there were Pierre Trudeau and Bernard Lamarre and some other people.”