Brancusi’s Endless Column Ensemble
Hailed as one of the great works of twentieth-century sculpture, Endless Column by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) was commissioned by the Women's League of Gorj to honor the soldiers who defended Târgu-Jiu against a German force in 1916. It is a 98-feet-high (30 meter) column of zinc, brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine, and is part of three-part ensemble, along with two travertine monuments, the Gate of the Kiss and the Table of Silence.
Despite the ensemble's artistic importance, it was considered to be degenerate art during the Communist era, resulting in neglect, exposure to the elements, and poor maintenance. By the mid-1990s, the artwork was in dire need of conservation. There was also major disagreement among interested parties on how to conduct this specialized restoration project.
Ensemble again serves as a historic site in Romania
The ensemble was included on the inaugural 1996 World Monuments Watch, which led to the establishment of a partnership between us, the Romanian government, and the World Bank to finance the preservation of all three sculptures and a discussion of how to repair the landscape that had once connected the three pieces.
Inclusion on the Watch focused national and international attention on the deteriorating sculpture and its run-down park surroundings. We were able to secure international funding to ensure the completion of the project. A turning point in the development of the project came when we convened an on-site consensus building session in 1998 that forged agreement on a number of unresolved technical matters. Years of discussion gave way to action, and after final approvals were secured, the column was restored in a period of only six weeks. The Gate of the Kiss and Table of Silence conservation projects took another 18 months. Laurie Olin of the Olin Studio envisioned the plan for restoration and conservation of the park setting between 2004 and 2006. In 2011 we focused on the creation of a visitor center to complement the earlier conservation work.
When Brancusi’s Endless Column was deemed to be degenerate art, an attempt was made to destroy it. This unsuccessful effort caused damage to the steel and iron armature forming the spine of the column that led to water infiltration and corrosion problems. The shiny bronze finish of the column modules specified by Brancusi had completely eroded. Conservation of this structure resulted in the restoration of its original intended aesthetic and its important protective finish. The ensemble again serves as a historic site in Romania and a reminder of the genius of Brancusi, whose works can be found in museums throughout the world.