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News 23 May 16

Romanians Query Drive to Buy Brancusi Sculpture

The sculpture at the heart of Romanian identity faces an uncertain fate, as some people question whether spending so much public money on one artwork is a good idea.

Marian Chiriac
Romania battles to buy back famed Constantin Brancusi sculpture | Photo: artmarkt.ro.

Romania has just launched a public campaign to raise funds to buy back "The Wisdom of the Earth", one of the finest artworks of Romanian-born modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

But there are worries over whether enough people in the cash-strapped Balkan country will support the expensive venture.

In March, after years of disputes with the sculpture's owners, the government announced its intention to pay 11 million euros for the work.

Some 5 million euro are to come from the state budget, and the remaining money is due to be raised by the public by the end of September.

"I want Brancusi to unite us, so I am calling on Romanians to take individual responsibility and donate,” Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said on Thursday.

The campaign, called "Brancusi is mine”, is supported by many public figures, including actors, writers or TV stars.

Even the Prime Minister’s wife, Valerie Ciolos-Villemin, who is an amateur singer, has taken part in an opera concert aimed at raising funds to acquire the sculpture.

The government has also promised to offer tax exemptions for public donations.

Moreover, everyone who donates on the campaign websites will receive a symbolic digital diploma with their name on it, to attest to their support.

Some Romanians are enthusiastic. Gabriela Moroiu, a freelance journalist, decided to make a small donation to prove that "Romanians really value their artists.

"Buying back the [Brancusi] sculpture will be a sign that Romanians still can stand together for a common, meaningful purpose. Only together can we fix the bad things affecting our society,” Moroiu said.

The fundraising campaing recalls the popular fundraising drive of 130 years ago, when the Romanian Atheneum, a symbolic edifice to the country’s culture, was built with money collected by the public.

The public appeal, "Give one Leu for the Atheneum”, remains famous as an example of national unity and awakening of the national conscience.

That spirit may be hard to recapture these days, however.

"Why to give money for a sculpture? If the government was efficient in fighting fiscal evasion and big corruption, there would be enough money in the state coffers for art,” Constantin Ionescu, a 67-year-old pensioner, suggested.

Some specialists are also dubious about the government’s plans to buy back the statue.

Dan Popescu, owner of an art gallery in Bucharest, calls the campaign "useless". He says the statue is highly over-valued.

"The government would do better to change the law so that pieces of art, including those in private collections, are more regularly shown to the public,” Popescu added.

The statue's history reflects the turmoil of Romania’s recent history. Brancusi, who spent most of his artistic life in Paris, carved it in 1907. Four years later, Gheorghe Romascu, a Romanian engineer and art lover, bought it.

The Communist regime confiscated it in 1957 and it became the subject of a long legal battle after the Communist regime collapsed. In 2008, it was returned to the family of the original owner.

The owners decided to sell it in 2014 and demanded 20 million euros. The Romanian state, which has first rights, in the first instance offered 5 million. More negotiations followed and an agreement was reached only recently.

The statue represents a woman, carved from limestone, who sits looking enigmatically ahead. It is currently on display at the Cotroceni National Museum in Bucharest.

Known as “the father of modern sculpture,” Brancusi was one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century as well as a painter and a photographer.

In February, Romania marked 140 years since his birth with many public events organized in his honour in Romania and abroad.

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