Historical survey of the erection of the “Endless Column”

Sculptor Constantin Brancusi erected the monumental ensemble of Târgu-Jiu in 1937-1938, to honour the memory of Gorj heroes, killed in action during the First World War. His long-nurtured dream of creating a large-scale public work was materialized in “the only sculpture of the modern era that will bear comparison with the great monuments of Egypt, Greece and the Renaissance” (William Tucker, The Hand That Changes the Forms, the Dailz Relegraph, London, 20 Julz 1973). Many large-scale projects of his are known only as ideas or sketches, either because of the patrons’reluctance to accept them or because of his own uncompromising perfectionism (Sorana Georgescu-Gorjan, Postface in Brâncusi – Templul din Indor by Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan, Bucharest, 1996, p.135-139). According to Sidney Geist, there is a final poetic justice in the fact that Brancusi’s only large-scale project came to fruition stands in his own fatherland (Sidney Geist, O coloana la sfârsit, Tribuna, nr.8, 24 Feb. 1966).The completion of the monumental ensemble was made possible by the concurrence of several favourable circumstances. The artist, who had stated in 1925 that he came to Paris for his apprenticeship (This Quarter, vol.1, no 1, 1925, Paris, p. 235), was aware that he had reached full artistic maturity : “Now all the things begun long ago come to a close and I feel like an apprentice on the eve of getting his papers …” (Brancusi to Milita Petrascu – letter of Februarz 11, 1935 – Library of the Romanian Academy).He was happy “to do something for our country” (ibidem). His patron, Aretia Tatarescu, the president of the National League of Gorj Women who commissioned the memorial, granted him “absolute freedom as to the theme and execution of the monument” (Sanda Tatarescu în Convorbiri Culturale by Paul Anghel, Bucharest, 1972, p.30). She fully understood him and provided her moral and material support. The period of conception and execution of the memorial largely coincided with the term of office of the liberal cabinet headed by Gheorghe Tatarescu, Aretia’s husband. The premier substantially helped her in her initiative. It was a period of unprecedented stability, prosperity and creativity in modern Romania, when arts and culture flourished (Nicolae Serban Tanasoca, Foreward in Marturii pentru istorie by Gh. Tatarescu, Bucharest, 1996, p. XXVI). Economic prosperity also accounts for the earmarking of more than 2.5 million lei by the board of “Petrosani” Society for the erection of the “Endless Column”. They did it urged by director general Ioan Bujoiu, an open-minded person who had financed many cultural projects (Sorana Georgescu-Gorjan în Pasi pe nisipul eternitatii, Târgu-Jiu, 1997, p. 152-153). Brancusi, who had graduated from an excellent Romanian school of arts and crafts was pleased to work with artist-craftsmen, who took pride in their craft and understood him. He entrusted young engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan with the task of erecting the Column, as he appreciated the original technical solution suggested by him and thought high of his managerial abilities, perseverence and abnegation in the service of art (Sorana Georgescu-Gorjan, conference on “An engineer in the service of art”, April 25, 1999, at the Dimitrie and Aurelia Ghiata Museum). The team of experienced specialists and technicians headed by engineer Gorjan met the artist’s high requirements. •The monumental ensemble has three components – the Table of Silence, the Gate of the Kiss and the Endless Column. Motifs addressed by the sculptor in his earlier creation acquire utmost beauty in these works. In the artist’s opinion, the work which attained “a character of definitive perfection” was the Endless Column of Targu-Jiu (P.G. Adrian, Constantin Brancusi, Goya, no 16, Jan, 1957, p. 238). As early as l933, he stated that he wished to enlarge his wooden columns, to “support the arch of the firmament” (Brancusi, Brummer Gallery, New York, 1933-1934). This dream came true at Târgu-Jiu. “The supreme and final example of his columns” (Friedrich Teja Bach, The Reality of Sculpture in Constantin Brancusi, Philadelphia, 1995, p. 158) is not a mere replica of the wooden columns. It is “the symbol of infinity in sea quasi mathematical symbol of the new aesthetics” (Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan, Amintiri despre Brâncusi, Craiova, 1988, p.176). Brancusi’s Endless Column differs from classic columns with bases and capitals. It is a special structure, which provides the impression of endlessness by means of its vertical succession of endlessly repeated identical modules, with half-modules at either end. A module consists of two truncated pyramids joined by their large bases. This type of column represents the “leap from the status of base to that of sculpture” and is considered “the most radical sculpture in the history of classic modernism” (Bach, p.160). Brancusi looked for the ideal ratio between the small side, large side and height of a module and found the “law of plastic harmony” – (1) : (2) : (4) – which is applied in all his columns (Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan, Amintiri, p. 87, 91). The succession of full and half-modules is arithmetically expressed in the so-called “slenderness formula” ½ + n + ½ . The Târgu-Jiu Column has attained an ideal in this respect with its formula: ” ½ + 15 + ½”. •Brancusi had carved his wooden columns with his own hands. However, for a metal column he had to resort to the aid of technicians. The technical conception of the metal column was authored by engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan: “To fix the base of a solid steel pillar in a massive concretefoundation and to thread onto it giant hollow beads -the repeated identical modules of the column. The perfect superposition of the modules would provide the impression of continuity” (Ibidem, p. 82). The strong underground base, embedded in a massive concrete foundation block, calculated to withstand the most unfavourable tilting force, permitted to meet the artist’s desire that the column “should provide the impression of springing stem-like out of the ground” (Ibidem, p. 87). Chronology of the erection of the Târgu-Jiu Column* * For the chronology, letters, manuscripts, documents, photos from the Gorjan Archive were used. Most photos reproduced in this book were taken by engineer Gorjan in 1937 and are part of his archive Preliminary stage  1934 – Paris Aretia Tatarescu, president of the National League of Gorj Women, married to premier Gheorghe Tatarescu, invites Brancusi to erect a memorial to Gorj heroes in Târgu-Jiu. The invitation was prompted by Milita Petrascu, the sculptor’s student between 1919 and 1923.  1935 – Paris – January 7 Brancusi discusses the commission with engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan, the son of an old-standing friend from his youth. The artist accepts the technical solution for a large-scale column suggested by Gorjan and invites him to assist him with technical matters. The engineer agrees.  February 11 Brancusi’s letter of acceptance to Milita Petrascu  1935-1936 Correspondence of Brancusi with Aretia Tatarescu. The sculptor makes a model for the Gate of the Kiss. Gorjan carries out documentation work.  1936 – Paris – December 7 Brancusi and Gorjan discuss the possibility of executing the Column at Petrosani. Gorjan, as chief-engineer of the Petrosani Central Workshops, may supervise the designing, foundry and fabrication operations. Brancusi decides that the models are to be made of cast iron, spray coated with brass.  1937 Paris – May Discussions on technical details between Brancusi and Gorjan.  1937 – Bucharest – June

Brancusi settles financial and organizational details with the board of “Petrosani” Society.  1937 – Poiana Gorj – June, July The artist stays with the Tatarescus. He discusses with the committee of the League.  1937 – Târgu-Jiu – July Brancusi selects the emplacement of the monuments and starts erecting the Gate.  Establishing the dimensions of the Column (1937) Târgu-Jiu – end of July Brancusi and Gorjan visit the site selected for the Column ( the former cattle market of the town, called by Brancusi the ‘Hay Market). Gorjan takes a photo of the place.  Petrosani – 1-14 August In Gorjan’s house, Brancusi sketches the outline of a Column and of a park, on the photograph of the site. To establish the di mensions of a module and the total height of the Column, they had to reconcile the range of technical possibilities, to the financial limitations and to the sculptor’s artistic vision. Sketches and rough calculations made by Gorjan were finished up in the designing office by engineer Hasnas. The selected solution observes the law of plastic harmony – (1):(2):(4) – by providing as module dimensions 450 mm, 900 mm and 1800 mm, for the small side, large side and height, respectively. The slenderness formula is ” ½ + 15 + ½ ” , the total height is 29,35 m.  The construction of the Column (1937)  Petrosani – 15-31 August In the model shop of the Petrosani Central Workshops, a rough softwood model is made, having very bulging side faces, according to the sculptor’s request.The artist patiently carves one side, to get an almost imperceptible curvature. The other three sides are carved by the artist model carpenter Carol Flisek. Red lacquer is applied on the surface, the core box, armature and special frame are fabricated. Models are made for the half-modules as well. (The original model carved by Brancusi no longer exists. The image of the rough model is preserved in a photo made by engineer Gorjan). In the designing office, detail calculations are made by engineer Nicolae Hasnas, double checked by eng. Gorjan. Shop drawings are made by draftsman Gavrila Somlo. Rolled St 3711 steel shapes and plates are ordered from the Resita steel mill, by Gorjan.Milling is expedited by the premier’s intercession. In late August, Brancusi leaves for Bucharest, then France. The whole responsibility of the operations devolves on engineer Gorjan.  Petrosani – September 1 The foundry model and the spine core plan are ready.  Paris – September 2 Brancusi’s letter to Gorjan, to expedite the completion of the foundation. The metal structure has to be fabricated beforehand, however.  Petrosani – September Module casting begins in the Foundry, posing great problems. In the Department of Metallic Structures, the team headed by foreman Ion Romosan starts the fabrication of the spine, using the materials received from Resita. The spine is designed in three sections, to permit transportation on the winding Jiu Defile. Two coats of red primer are applied on the spine, to ensure anti-rust protection.  Paris – September 18 Brancusi requests by cable that metallization be yellow.  Petrosani – October 12Gorjan’s letter to Brancusi informs him that ten modules and a half are already cast. Foundation is made at Târgu-Jiu by a Petrosani team. The spine has already been sent there. Metallization poses great problems.  Paris – October 15 Brancusi’s letter to Gorjan, requesting high quality concrete and yellow metallization.  Petrosani – October 18 Gorjan’s letter to Brancusi describes difficulties met with the foundation it rained for 20 days, the problems posed by the transportation of the spine section. Thirteen modules and a half are already cast. The plane parallel surfaces of the modules are carefully machined and modules are to be fastened to the spine by means of metal wedges.The idea of placing a welding collar on the modules has been discarded because of wind oscillations.  Petrosani – October In the Department of Metallic Structures, a preassembly of the modules is performed Modules are adjusted for a perfect fit, order numbers are punched on them, Gorjan takes a photo. The image shows the “fins” of the cross-trestle (the structure to be embedded) and a steel support frame. The “film” of the erection of the Column at Târgu-Jiu (1937)  October The photo of the organization of the erection site (taken by Gorjan, as most of the images) shows how concrete is prepared.Gravel is unloaded from ox- or horse-driven carts. Warm water is used. A water tank is brought on an ox-driven cart, the steam for water warming is prepared in a locomobile, mechanics couple an electric engine with a belt. The members of the mounting crew are photographed close to the lower spine section, lying on the ground. The photo was sent as a post-card and it bears the post office stamp – October 22, 1937. Workers took photos of the hoisting of the cross-trestle, to be embedded in the foundation. The unloading of tools and materials from a Petrosani truck is shown in a Gorjan-made photo. A waterproof tarpaulin may be seen. It was used to protect the modules, brought from Petrosani only when it is their turn to be threaded onto the spine. The scaffolding and the lower spine section, already joined to the embedded structure, are seen in the background. The mounting crew, headed by Francisc Hering (wearing a cap and a moustache), is seen in a photo taken by a mechanic.They stand close to modules just unloaded. The plane joining faces of the modules- called by Brancusi “joining shoulder” -are visible. The wooden portal with its hand-operated hoisting block, used to unload the modules, is seen in the background. A photo taken by engineer Gorjan shows the scaffolding erected stepwise and the lower spine section already fixed. The next photo illustrates the pouring of the last concrete layer on the upper part of the foundation. The upper portion of the cross-trestle fins is supporting a steel frame, standing on welded steel strips. A worker, suspended in a kind of swing, paints the spine with the last layer of red primer.Discontinued welding seams and the riveting of the cross-trestle fins are clearly visible. There follows a photo showing the way the bottommost half-module, with its 450 – mm prismatic base, is placed on the steel frame The device used for module threading is also visible. In the following image, the half-module is already fixed. A truck from the Petrosani Central Workshops is seen in the background.  November 1-7 In early November, Brancusi comes back to Târgu-Jiu. He inspects the roughly made Gate, the cleared park alley, the first version of the Table. He attends the dedication of the Church of the Saint Apostles. He supervises the threading of the first full modules of the Column. The first full module was hoisted with a pulley and the special holding device, and then it was carefully threaded down onto the spine.The jo ints between the bottommost half-module and the first module were filled with a sealant ( a metallic jointing paste). Operations were repeated for all modules. Engineer Gorjan photographed the artist while he supervised the hoisting and threading down of module II. Satisfied with the way work proceeded, Brancusi entrusted Gorjan with the completion of the operations.  November 7-15 The hoisting of the middle spine section with a pulley and jacks is illustrated in two photos. The lower and the middle section are welded together by Victor Borodi. The third layer of primer is then applied. Modules IV to IX are threaded down onto the spine. Thin metallic wedges fasten them to the spine. The horizontal level of the surface is checked up with a water level. The threading down of module VIII is shown in a Gorjan-made photo.The scaffolding has reached its full height – 35 meters. Three photos record the hoisting and joining of the upper spine section, with a simple structure. Modules IX to XV and the top half-module are threaded down on the upper spine section. A lid is to be fastened . The structure of the upper spine is clearly seen in a photo. The film continues with the general view of the Column with ten modules already threaded. In the background the outline of the Church on the axis of the Street of the Heroes may be seen. There follow the image of the Column with all fifteen full modules , the photo of the crew ready to leave, and that of the first sightseers , standing close to the monument with perfectly superposed modules.The scaffolding is kept for metallization Erection was completed by mid-November. The whole operation had lasted three months.There were no accidents.  Completion of the Targu-Jiu memorial (1938) June-July Brancusi comes back to Târgu-Jiu, to finish the Gate of the Kiss and the Table of Silence.  June 20 – July 25 The “Metalizarea” Company spray-coated the Column with zinc and brass. The brass wire with a pure brass alloy , ordered by engineer Gorjan in Switzerland, met the artist’s exigency.  September Stools are placed round the Table and along the alley.  September 20 Brancusi leaves Târgu-Jiu.  October 27 Dedication of the ensemble. Engineer Gorjan is abroad. Brancusi’s presence is still controversial.  * “Buletinul Comisiei Monumentelor Istorice”, an XI, 1-4/2000, p. 56-61

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