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Brâncuși the Sculptor

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A tourist has taken as a souvenir one of the horse heads from the spring housing, an important cultural artefact.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe 14th September 2015

Coloana Infinitului

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Coloana Infinitului


Constantin Brâncuși's Column of the Infinite constitutes, if not one of the most important contributions to modern sculpture, certainly one of the most exciting and original expressions of twentieth century art. Unfortunately, little is known about the sculpture beyond a small circle of specialists and enthusiasts of 'Brâncușiana'. The main reasons are simple enough: an awkward geographical location which renders access to the monument difficult, and an inexplicably restricted amount of written material.

The column is made of cast iron and steel, and stands nearly thirty metres high.

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The Column of the Infinite belongs to a sculptural complex found in Târgu Jiu, a provincial town in the sculptor's native Romania. Two further works complete the ensemble: a stone portal referred to in the literature as The Gate of the Kiss (from the kiss motif carved both on its posts and lintel), and a circular table surrounded by twelve equidistant circular hourglass shaped stools - The Table of Silence - Masa Tăcerii - carved from local travertine.

It should be noted that the Gate of the Kiss is a favourite place for local couples to exchange marriage vows!

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

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In addition, two stone benches are placed on each of the short sides of the portal, while thirty square hour-glass shaped stools (shown in the image at left) flank the alley connecting portal and table. These complete the Târgu Jiu ensemble.

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Views of the Table of Silence, Masa Tăcerii, on the left looking towards the Jiu River, and on the right looking along the entire vista from The Table of Silence to the Gate of the Kiss.

The sculpture was commissioned as a votive monument in memory of the Romanian soldiers killed while fighting the Germans in the First World War. The commission came from the wife of the then Romanian Prime Minister Tatarescu, who wrote to Brâncuși in Paris, inviting him to Romania. The correspondence which ensued between the sculptor and Mme Arethie Tatarescu having disappeared, information regarding the genesis fo the complex is somewhat mysterious. Thus it is by no means clear whether Brâncuși was required to erect a single monument, and if so, how the commission developed into a sculptural complex, or whether such a complex was envisaged from the start. An equally complicated issue is that of interpretation. Although the Column of the Infinite was commissioned as a war memorial, the exact iconography of the whole ensemble has been called into question.

Text: Adapted from that of Sanda Miller, in:
Burlington Magazine, Vol. 122, No. 928, Special Issue Devoted to Twentieth Century Art (Jul., 1980), pp. 470-480

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

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A wooden sculpture by a young female student of Brâncuși's in the Arts Museum, in the main park of Târgu Jiu. It is said that Brâncuși made a few changes to this student's work.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

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A sculpture in stone by a Japanese sculptor in the main park of Târgu Jiu, near the Art Museum, on the left bank of the Jiu River. The sculpture depicts Brâncuși embracing a woman.

Note the strange plinth for the sculpture - it appears to have been designed for quite a different setting, and the marble base has been cut out to accomodate it, but instead a simple stone and concrete base has been constructed to support the statue.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

In Hobita, the small village where Brâncuși was born, about 20 km west of Târgu Jiu, there is a small forest near the village, where sculptors meet from time to time and have a sculpture camp to remember Brâncuși's art.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

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The wooden gate of the Brâncuși house, where Brâncuși lived only until he was 11 years old, so that there are no mementoes of him in the house, only furniture and agricultural tools.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

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Views of Brâncuși's house.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

In Brâncuși's house is this curious key system. The steel key has a moveable bar on it. The user pushes the key through the small hole in the door, and the bar drops down because of gravity. It then engages with one of the slots on the wooden bar, and the user is able to twist the key and thus slide the wooden bar to one side, allowing the door to open, or to lock behind them.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

The house, although it has a fireplace, has no chimney. The smoke went directly into the attic, and this acted as a preservative for the wood of the roof - though it must have been smoky for anyone sleeping in the attic! I sure hope this house is covered with a home insurance since the chances of a fire breaking up in this place seems pretty high.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

This is a very old washing machine!

The tree trunk was cut as shown, and the interior wood was chiseled or burnt out. The hollow log was then placed vertically on straw, and inside were put wet clothes, then a layer of wood ash, then clothes, then ash, and so on in layers.

When the hollow log was full, hot water was poured in at the top, which percolated down through the clothes. After a few hours, the clothes were removed, quite clean.

Wood ash mixed with water makes an alkaline solution, which readily dissolves grease and dirt.

Presumably the clothes were then rinsed to get rid of any ash, and then dried as normal. Perhaps this can be called the first automatic washing machine!

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

This barrel has hoops made of wood, not iron, which although it made the barrel more difficult to make, was a cheaper method than using iron hoops.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

This appears to be a corn crib. Maize is harvested as a cob, and is then put into this very large wicker basket, with enough air circulation to allow the cobs to dry naturally and safely. When corn is needed for pigs or other animals, it is obtained through the wooden door at the bottom of the crib.

The crib was not provided with diagonal supports, however, and has started to lean.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

The house was made in the classic log cabin style, with lapped joints.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

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Views of the house, the garden, and the entrance to the village, with a miniature Column of the Infinite.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe

Constantin Brâncuși, Self-Portrait, c.1933-34.
Collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

When Constantin Brâncuși moved to Paris from his native Romania in 1904, he was introduced to Auguste Rodin, the French master sculptor who was then at the height of his career. He invited Brâncuși to join his atelier as an apprentice, but the younger artist - with the confidence, stubbornness, and independence of youth - declined, claiming that "nothing grows in the shade of a tall tree." Brâncuși rejected Rodin's 19th-century emphasis on theatricality and accumulation of detail in favor of radical simplification and abbreviation; he suppressed all decoration and explicit narrative referents in an effort to create pure and resonant forms. His goal was to capture the essence of his subjects - which included birds in flight, fish, penguins, and a kissing couple - and render them visible with minimal formal means.



Constantin Brâncuși, who died in 1957, was an enigmatic figure; an ascetic in the studio, bon vivant out of it. His finely curving heads go to discerning collectors - one fetched $18m at Christie's in New York last month, a record price for a sculpture - but he liked serving fresh sheep's cheese to his guests and his closest companion was his dog, Polaire. Although Brâncuși lived mostly in France, he remained a patriot and even sang mass at the Romanian Orthodox Church in Paris.

In 1935 Brâncuși was commissioned to erect a first world war memorial in Târgu Jiu, close to where the Carpathian mountains taper off. It was a deeply personal undertaking. He had been born in a village nearby in 1876 and run away to the town as an 11 year old, working for Ion Mosculescu, a dyer, and then as a waiter in a café. He returned there all his life.

Starting in 1937, Brâncuși installed three pieces in Târgu Jiu. "Table of Silence" and "Gate of the Kiss" were of stone; "Endless Column" of metal. The pieces stand on a mile-long (1.6km) axis along which, it seems, pass both the living and the dead. The path begins with "Table of Silence", its empty stools representing loss, in a park at the western edge of the town. It continues through the "Gate of the Kiss", emphasising the embrace of love for the fallen, and through the town-centre to another park where the heavenward draft of Brâncuși's most famous and breathtaking work, "Endless Column", finally reveals itself.

In giant form, the column recalls the wooden funereal statuary of Romanian village graves. Its 15 identical geometric modules, each two metres high, are cast in iron, burnished with a bronze-like coat and welded to an iron spine. The column's simplicity and sense of infinity enraptured Brâncuși. More than any previous work, it captured an essential spirituality of form that he had long been striving for. He wanted to build an inhabited version of it off Central Park in New York topped with one of his bird sculptures. And in 1956, a year before his death, there were tantalising discussions about raising a 400-metre-high "Endless Column" in polished stainless steel on the Chicago lakeshore.

The Târgu Jiu memorial emerged from communist rule intact but in urgent need of restoration. Urged on by a group of prominent Romanian exiles, including Mica Ertegun, a New York designer, the World Monuments Fund, a private conservation organisation, decided to do something about it, in time raising $3.2m, most of it from the World Bank, which now sees economic wisdom in preserving cultural monuments.

Work on the "Endless Column" is now complete. The next stage, says Laurie Olin, an American landscape architect, will be to improve the setting. Lawns and gravel paths will enhance the sculptures; newly planted trees will screen out the industrial views and make more of the street connecting the two parks. Playgrounds and picnic areas will ensure that the parks remain public places. A small visitor centre emphasising Brâncuși's roots will also be built. The World Bank and the Romanian government hope this will help attract tourists and give lustre to an otherwise poor and unremarkable part of the country. Like Brâncuși's in its time, Mr Olin's aim is to ensure that the memorial'ssimplicity shines through.

Text: The Economist © 2002"Never forget", Economist, 00130613, 6/29/2002, Vol. 363, Issue 8279

Map of Târgu Jiu showing the position of the monuments created by Brâncuși, in the parks and gardens coloured green. Târgu means a big market, where one can buy anything: food, plants, animals, anything for the house, cars....anything. It is enormous. Thus, Târgu Jiu means the big market place on the river Jiu.

There are many place names in Romania that start with Târgu. All are probably based on an existing Târg sometime in the past.


alley of chairs Restoration of Aleea Scaunelor - the Alley of Chairs and Masa tăcerii - the Table of Silence

Text below from:

Battle over the heritage to Brâncuși

Wonder why there are no models or t-shirts of Brâncuși in Romania? Copyright law places the reproduction of his work out of the hands of its owners, finds Anca Pol

In 1927, a version of sculptor Constantin Brâncuși's sculpture 'The Bird in Space' was transported from Europe to the American continent, following its purchase by an American for 600 USD. Seeing the lean and simple abstract figure, the American customs clerks labelled the merchandise 'industrial object' and charged the buyer a 40 per cent import tax.

Irritated, Brâncuși sued the American customs department and won, proving that the piece was real art and not, say, a spare part for a train undercarriage or printing press.

Last year a version of the industrial object was sold at Christie's New York for over 27 million USD, becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. But, 50 years on from his death, Brâncuși's works are still the subject of many legal disputes.

While Brâncuși may be the most famous sculptor of the 20th century and Romania's most illustrious international artist, his work cannot be reproduced or used in advertising or promotion without the consent of his heir and a legal team for now and decades to come.

Brâncuși lived and worked in Paris from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1950s, while retaining his Romanian citizenship.

He was in his 70s when he decided to come to Romania and offered the then Communist state the copyright for all his work. However, after examining the offer, the Romanian Academy said his work was too 'decadent' for a country where Proletarian art was at its peak.

Hurt and disappointed, Brâncuși returned to France, where he applied for and received French citizenship. Anger at this snub was further compounded when Brâncuși left his studio to the French state. This Atelier now stands in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou in the heart of Paris.

At the same time, he appointed two Romanian artists, Natalia Dumitrescu and Alexandru Istrati, husband and wife, as legal heirs. They came to Paris on an arts scholarship and helped assist Brâncuși during his final days.

At Dumitrescu's death in 1997, her nephew Theodor Nicol, a Canadian citizen of Romanian origin, took over the rights to the international copyright of Brâncuși's work and its reproduction.

Regarding the legality of Nicol's claim, Doina Lemny, researcher at the Pompidou Centre and Brâncuși expert says: "There is no doubt about it."

Adds Paris lawyer Jean-Marc Sabatier: "Mr Nicol can ask for royalty costs for the reproduction of Brâncuși's work in France."

Nicol tells The Diplomat he has no property rights over Brâncuși's works in general, but the owners of these works, such as individuals or institutions, do not have copyright, including rights to reproduce the art in the audiovisual, multimedia or editorial formats.

Targu Jiu, the nearest city to Constantin Brâncuși's native village Hobita, hosts three outdoor sculptures by Brâncuși: the Infinity Column, the Gate of the Kiss and the Table of Silence. These were dedicated to the Gorj County heroes of the First World War and the Association of Gorj Women (Femeile Gorjene), the first owners of the three works, donated them to the Targu Jiu Municipality.

Five years ago, the sculptures were surrounded by broken beer glass and cigarette butts, with no guards. Now, a visitor can admire the three works at their best, after the World Bank financed their restoration.

But there are no T-shirts with a picture of the Gate, neither pencil sharpeners emblazoned with the image of the column, nor gift shops. In short, the City Hall is not and, arguably, cannot, capitalise on its ownership of these works.

"It is not acceptable," says Sorin Buliga, director of the Constantin Brâncuși Culture and Art Centre in Targu Jiu, the cultural branch of the local municipality. "I cannot sell anything bearing images of Brâncuși's works and everyone criticises us for this."

Targu Jiu-based Brâncuși author Ion Mocioi argues that the City Hall is the "absolute owner" of the three works. He also thinks that intellectual property law should not apply in this case because Brâncuși received "no money" for the creation of the masterpieces.

However the Targu Jiu Municipality, as current owner of the three pieces, started to collect money for the Brâncuși copyright in Romania, bypassing the Romanian association appointed to collect royalties for artists - Visarta. In 2002 the City Hall charged an advertising agency 3,000 USD to use the image of the Infinity Column in a soft drink commercial.

"They wanted to make some money," said Gheorghe Voican, executive director of Visarta.

That year Visarta sued the City Hall. This has passed through various judicial bodies, from the Targu Jiu Court to the Supreme Court, where the case continues.

"We do not understand why we cannot use the images of the works, since they are in our direct property," says Buliga.

Paris-based Sabatier says a distinction must be made between the material property and the patrimonial or intellectual rights. "A museum can expose a work of art it has acquired, with the condition of not reproducing it," he adds.

French and Romanian intellectual property laws remain similar, says lawyer Mihaela Giuraniuc. "During the copyright protection period, the owner of the work of art, individual, gallery, museum, cannot reproduce the work, inclusive through photographing and filming without the preliminary agreement of the copyright holder."

To protect against potential litigation, galleries and museums often place signs warning that the photographing, filming or any form of reproduction is prohibited.

The Art Museum of Craiova owns and displays six works by Brâncuși.

"It is normal to have to pay royalty for these images," says Florin Rogneanu, director of the museum.

Visarta represents the French-based owner of Brâncuși's royalties, the Association of the Authors in Graphic and Plastic Arts (ADAGP). When it comes to approving the use of Brâncuși images, Voican says nothing can be done without the approval of ADAGP Paris and this French association, at its turn, does nothing without Nicol's approval.

"If you break this, it's a crime," he adds.

Many want to use images of Brâncuși's works for different purposes, such as in models for sale.

Voican says a former Hunedoara prefect thought he could create a mould replica of the Infinity Column because he had in his possession Brâncuși's plans for the sculpture.


Visarta has come up against some resistance.

"I have even been threatened to be shot by a publishing house director, who said to me: 'Who do you think you are? I don't want to pay!'," he adds.

All the cases requesting the use of Brâncuși images are treated case by case. The users of the image send details to Visarta and, according to this, a price is calculated. "The law allows me to negotiate," Voican says.

Only the owner of the copyright can decide gratuity or a preferential price.

According to Buliga, he intends to ask for Theodor Nicol's permission to make an exception for Targu Jiu. This means not charging the Municipality for using the images of the Infinity Column, Gate of Kiss and Table of Silence in its promotion.

There have been cases, such as the publication of two books about Brâncuși, where Nicol has offered the approval for free, only a commission for Visarta was collected.

"When it is done in cultural purposes we make reductions," the Visarta general director tells The Diplomat.

In 2002, Theodor Nicol went to the Romanian Ministry of Culture and said that he had no financial requirements and that all he wanted was for Brâncuși's works not to be used in other purposes than what they were created for.

This ignored the fact that the Ministry had allotted some money as a budget for Brâncuși royalty costs during the Brâncuși Year.

With the 11th Francophony Summit hosted this year in Romania, the international reunion's logo, designed by graphic artist Octavian Penda, will comprise the image of 'The Cock' by Brâncuși. As we went to press, an approval in principal had been given by ADAGP Paris. "The price has not been established yet," says Voican. "As for these matters you cannot establish a price per kilo."


The Romanian Government is still working out whether or not it wants to rebrand its country (see The Diplomat, vol 2, no. 1) and some marketing specialists want to use Brâncuși's work to promote the best of Romania but, as they understood it, they were not allowed.

But if Theodor Nicol, the owner of the Brâncuși copyright, gives the approval, it can be done.

On the subject of using certain images of some of Brâncuși's well-known works for a projected campaign of 'country branding', Nicol says: "An overall answer to this question cannot be given upfront, due to the fact that each request has to be analysed and handled separately, according to its specificity and the copyright legislation in effect."

He says this will be individually assessed through the legal channels.

"Respecting the spirit of the oeuvre and the image of the artist will be an essential factor in taking the final decision for granting an authorisation," he adds.

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