In 1995, Catalina Bogdan-Mateescu pointed out that the Targu-Jiu Ensemble should be seen as “a historical expression of how a unique artist combines past and present, folklore and modernity, life and death, war and creation, matter and spirit”. She felt that Brancusi’s most important work and largest finished project embodied his philosophy of life and artistic knowledge. He invented environmental sculpture and was a forerunner of minimalism. Brancusi turned art into an art of the future, by having his roots planted in the tradition of the remote past. Being in touch with Parisian avant-garde and its taste for the primitive, he saw clearly the value of folklore which he knew from his youth and used it to better advantage than others.
According to Ionel Jianou, the Ensemble is “the most successful monument in the whole world dedicated to the heroes of World War I”. This unique war memorial combines three arts – sculpture, architecture and town-planning – and extends on over one mile.
Close to the bank of the river Jiu, where townsmen defended their homes against the enemy in 1916, there stands the stone Table of Silence, surrounded by 12 stone stools. It invites people to meditate and render homage to the memory of those who lost their life in action. An alley bordered by trees and 30 stone stools leads to the stone Gate of the Kiss, close to the entrance in the public garden. The symbolic carvings on this gate refer to love and gratitude for the sacrifice of the heroes. Brancusi defined it as “a gateway to a beyond”. The Avenue of Heroes, a street which crosses the town, leads to the Church of St Peter and Paul and ends in a hillock crowned by the Endless Column. This monument of cast-iron and steel links heaven and earth, helping the souls of the heroes ascend to God. Brancusi compared it to “a timeless song that lifts us into infinity, beyond all suffering and artificial joy”.
The Table, the Gate and the Column are reminiscent of the traditions and rites familiar to the sculptor from his youth in native Oltenia. He had preserved these memories in Paris and treasured them in his studio.
This seminal work of modern art is a sublime creation, suggesting the journey from this life to the next. It is one of the most important public monuments of the twentieth century and, according to sculptor William Tucker:
It is the only sculpture of the modern era that will bear comparison with the great monuments of Egypt, Greece and the Renaissance, yet its orientation is toward the future, standing at the dawn of a new age of sculpture, profound, free and uncompromisingly abstract.
This definition of Brancusi’s monumental ensemble in Targu-Jiu helps us advocate for the inclusion of this masterpiece among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.