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 during World War I. The sculpture is a 98-foot-high (30 meter) column of zinc, brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine, and is part of a three-sculpture ensemble along with two travertine monuments called Gate of the Kiss and Table of Silence. Despite the ensemble's artistic importance, it was considered degenerate art during the Communist era. A failed attempt to pull the column down left it tilted and cracked, exposing its interior to the elements. The ensemble as a whole was poorly maintained for years. By the mid-1990s the monuments were in dire need of conservation, but interested parties disagreed on the way in which this specialized restoration project should be conducted.
Restored ensemble once again serves as a historic site in Romania
The ensemble was included on the World Monuments Watch in 1996 and 1998 to focus attention on the deterioration of the sculptures and their run-down park surroundings. We partnered with the Romanian government, the World Bank, and American Express to launch a comprehensive restoration project at the site. The quality of the work was ensured through a consensus building session, which forged agreement between experts on a number of unresolved technical matters. Preservation of the column took place over six weeks in the fall of 1996 and included historic research, documentation, and the temporary removal of the modules for conservation. The Swedish Corrosion Institute and the Getty Conservation Institute evaluated the modules and found them to be salvageable, but the monument’s spine had to be replaced with a stainless steel shaft. After repairs the modules were reattached, and further improvements were carried out at the sculpture including the installation of lightening protection and permanent monitoring equipment. The Gate of the Kiss and Table of Silence conservation projects took another 18 months. By 2004 the visitor’s center had been renovated and the surrounding landscape had benefitted from new plants, consistent and appropriate paving materials, and adjusted circulation. 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.
Conservation of Brancusi’s Endless Column 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 famous sculptor’s genius.