29 October 2018

While many nations go to great lengths to protect and preserve the heritage left behind by their great cultural figures, the small home in which Romania’s greatest artist, Constantin Brâncuși, grew up, has been left to collapse. This is in spite of the old property being placed on a list of protected historical monuments 15 years ago. It has caused outrage among many in Romania. 

The dilapidated childhood home of the early 20th century sculptor, which is situated in the small village of Hobița in west Romania, just 15 miles away from the artist’s famous ‘Endless Column’ sculpture in Târgu Jiu, a tribute to Romanian soldiers who died in World War I, is now reportedly used as a chicken coup by local villagers.

It is a sad situation indicative of the complicated bureaucracy that is meant to protect heritage monuments in Romania — but which, in some cases, hampers its own mission as important old structures fall into states of disrepair. 

Brâncuși was born into a peasant family in Hobița in 1876, moved to Paris as a young man and became a prominent 20th century modernist sculptor. His works have sold for as much as $71 million, he has been cited by writers such as Evelyn Waugh and even commemorated in a Google Doodle in 2011 which displayed some of his best-known art. 

In 1971, Romania’s communist government built a copy of the Brâncuși home just 200-metres away from the partly collapsed house which contains original oak-wood structural beams from an even earlier Brâncuși home, the one in which the artist was born. The communists’ copy of the home, which serves as a museum, is reportedly visited by more than 10,000 people annually, which gives us some insight into the artist’s worth.

The collapsed real-world Brâncuși home has prompted Minister of Culture and National Identity, George Ivaşcu, to express sadness and to admit to a local news channel that heritage protection in Romania is ‘in a crisis’. Eugen Tomac, president of the People’s Movement Party, however, called for Ivaşcu to ‘urgently’ step down over the furore.

Following the death of Brâncuși’s parents, the property was passed around in the family and taken over in 2001 by a contemporary Bucharest-based sculptor, Florin Codre, reportedly for £100 and a horse. Codre was fined when he started dismantling the property due to not having the correct permits, while Ivaşcu says that the ministry’s hands were tied due to the property’s private ownership. 

Thus, years passed and the roofless historical monument linked to one of the great artists of the modern era descended further into a deplorable state.

‘Unfortunately, many years of administrative and political disinterest have brought us into the current situation where, due to lack of funds, the Ministry of Culture and National Identity was unable to exercise the right of preemption on historical monuments,’ Ivascu said in a statement. 

Cosmic Pigiu, mayor of Peștișani since 2016, a commune in Gorj County which administers Hobița, is highly critical of the government’s handling of the issue.

‘At this moment, I can say that interest from the Romanian Government is very low,’ Pigiu said, adding that his insistence to act was met with government indifference. ‘Perhaps, as a result of this article, the government will open its eyes and understand the true meaning of what we have here. As mayor of the commune, I have limited resources.’

According to Pigiu, there are 13 heirs to the old Brâncuși property and none have shown interest in taking on the responsibility of the historical monument. A combination of unpaid property taxes, complicated bureaucracy and the burden of risking facing a criminal file for failing to protect such a monument, probably offers little encouragement. 

When Brâncuși died in 1957, his works were bequeathed to his adoptive France after Romania’s communist government refused to accept the artist’s wish that it be let to his homeland in 1951, believing they were of limited artistic value. 

‘The French present him as a French-Romanian sculptor and invest so much money in preserving its “brand”, what Brâncuși left behind,’ says Oana Chirilă, a Romanian architect working in heritage restoration. ‘And we [Romania] let his house collapse.’