The Romanian government decided on October 12 to allocate additional funds to acquire Constantin Brancusi’s artwork Wisdom of Earth, after a national campaign to raise funds failed to gather enough money.
The campaign, which was launched in May, was intended to raise €6mn so that the Romanian state could buy the work by the Romanian sculptor from the heirs of an architect who had bought it from Brancusi himself in 1911. The Romanian state was planning to allocate another €5mn.
However, the government managed to raise only €1.27mn by the end of September, with €800,000 being collected in the past two and a half months. Donors included the Russian embassy in Bucharest, whose contribution of €100 was deemed by many Romanians to be insultingly low.
The failure of the campaign is an embarrassment for the government, which had put its collective weight behind efforts to persuade Romanians to chip in for the sculpture. Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos was one of the biggest supporters of the campaign, and the main Romanian government offices on Bucharest’s Piata Victoriei are currently draped in a huge banner featuring Wisdom of Earth.
Apart from raising funds, the campaign was also a collective exercise, questioning Romanians’ ability to unite and donate for a national symbol. Aside from Ciolos, the message of the “Brancusi is mine” campaign was supported by a considerable number of Romanian personalities, including writers, actors and sportsmen.
“It is one of the most important national projects aimed at strengthening solidarity between state and society, and its aim is to recover an important part of the local cultural identity,” the government said in May.
After several artworks by Brancusi were acquired in recent years by private owners, the Wisdom of Earth was the last major work the Romanian state could recover and make accessible to the general public.
The failure to collect the planned funds might be linked to the lack of confidence Romanians have in the political class and the government’s ability to manage funds. The National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) has embarked on a fight against high-level corruption in recent years. A considerable number of politicians are being investigated or have already been sent to prison, and many Romanians still perceive most the MPs and government officials as corrupt.
The launch of the campaign also coincided with new scandals in Romania’s under-funded system. Many argued that Romania should invest in hospitals rather than art.
In the past, public subscription campaigns have enjoyed more support. Romania ran a similar campaign 130 years ago when the Athenaeum in Bucharest was built. With the “Give one leu for the Atheneum” slogan, which soon became very popular and is still used in Romania, the country managed to gather the necessary money for the construction of the grandiose building, now a symbol of the Romanian capital, by organising a national lottery with 500,000 tickets worth 1 leu each.
“[B]ecause I want Brancusi to gather us together, not to divide us, I call on Romanians to assume values at the individual level,” the Romanian prime minister said back in May, in a statement reminiscent of earlier campaigns.
However, times have changed and so have Romanians’ interest in art and willingness to participate in joint projects. The campaign did not manage to gather Romanians together as Ciolos had planned.
The government has now decided to set up the Brancusi Fund, through which the country will buy artworks. The funds will come from donations, sponsorship and the state budget.
Constantin Brancusi was born in Romania in 1876 and is one of the most famous sculptors of the 20th century. The Wisdom of Earth was created in 1907 and is one of his best known works.