Unconditional Surrender (sculpture)
Unconditional Surrender is a series of computer-generated sculptures by Seward Johnson that resemble a 1945 photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, V–J day in Times Square, but is said by Johnson to be based on a similar, less well known, photograph by Victor Jorgensen that is in the public domain. The first in the series was installed temporarily in Sarasota, Florida, then was moved to San Diego, California and New York City. Others in the series have been installed in Hamilton, New Jersey; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Normandy, France. Johnson later identified the sculpture at exhibitions as "Embracing Peace" for the double entendre.
2005: First temporary installation in Sarasota
Seward Johnson built a life-size bronze precursor to the huge statues of Unconditional Surrender using a computer, a technology that would be used to manufacture the entire series. A 25-foot (7.6 m)-tall styrofoam version of the statue was part of a temporary exhibition in Sarasota, Florida in 2005, at its bay front.
Johnson proceeded with the manufacture of aluminum versions of the 25-feet-tall statue, marketing them through a foundation he had created. He offered copies ranging from $542,500 for styrofoam (plastic), $980,000 for aluminum, and $1,140,000 for bronze. Johnson established the Sculpture Foundation to disseminate his work.
2007: Temporary installation in San Diego encounters controversy
After being exhibited in Florida, the plastic copy of the statue was moved to San Diego, California, on a flatbed truck. The second place to exhibit Unconditional Surrender was in Tuna Harbor Park (formerly G Street Mole Park) where the Port of San Diego installed one temporarily in 2007. The statue, made of a foam core with a urethane outer layer, was scheduled to be on loan through August 2010; however, it remained installed until May 2012, when it was dismantled and shipped to New Jersey for restoration.
Placement of the statue was criticized by multiple people. Robert L. Pincus, art critic of The San Diego Union Tribune, said that according to "theme-park logic" the statue suited the site, in front of the Midway Aircraft Museum, and that it pleased couples who mimicked the pose, but that it was kitsch and "The figures look like something from a cheap souvenir factory, blown up beyond any reason." Other critics stated that the statue "was not artistically or [a]esthetically pleasing."
2009: Aluminum copy to Sarasota temporarily amid controversy
Interest in a revisit to Sarasota in 2009 was cultivated by a director of a bay-front biannual show and an aluminum copy was placed at the bay-front, again temporarily. An "88-year-old donor, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II" offered to pay half a million dollars for it against an initial asking price of $680,000.
While some members of the community supported the statue, others felt the statue was not good enough to be displayed on the bay front. The chairwoman of the public art committee at the time said that "it doesn't even qualify as kitsch...It is like a giant cartoon image drafted by a computer emulating a famous photograph. It's not the creation of an artist. It's an artist copying a famous image." The statue was immediately controversial, with some people calling for its removal for various reasons, including the fact that it may constitute copyright infringement, as well as concern about its content representing a sexual assault.
Joel May, a Sarasota architect and a member of the city's public art committee, raised an issue of possible copyright infringement, because of the similarity of the sculpture to V–J day in Times Square, published in Life in 1945 and still protected by copyright. Johnson asserted that he was aware of this issue, and had used another photograph of the kissing couple taken by Victor Jorgensen, which is in the public domain. The attorney for the municipal government said that the attorneys for Johnson and the donor had fulfilled the requirements set by the city commission, making way for exhibition of the statue for at least ten years.
An automobile crash occurred on April 26, 2012, during which the Sarasota copy of the statue was struck by a vehicle and was damaged. The impact knocked an approximately 3-foot-wide hole in the sailor's foot and added hairline cracks to its frame. This led to the statue being taken down by the city, which laid the statue onto its side, close to the site, while insurance companies negotiated over liability and repair issues. The minimum distance for a road hazard established by the state of Florida is fourteen feet, but the location barely met that standard because it was erected near one of the busiest and most complex intersections in the city. The statue attracted visitors who gathered around the base and often backed up to the curb to take photographs. No one was present when the automobile jumped the curb and careened into the statue.
Debate about returning the statue to that location ensued, with an editorial calling for moving the statue to a safer location, as had been advocated by critics before the statue was placed for the controversial ten-year display. The statue was re-erected near the Sarasota shoreline in December 2012. Similar controversy was occurring in California. In March 2012, the San Diego Unified Port District voted to purchase a permanent bronze replacement for the loaner. This controversial move resulted in the resignation of three board members. Despite the controversy, construction of the new weather-resistant bronze statue proceeded, in part due to a fundraising campaign by the Midway Museum that raised US$1 million.
Controversy leads to tagging as sexual assault
Unconditional Surrender has been a topic of controversy many times, both pro and con, but in 2019, after the man thought to be the subject of the original photograph, V-J Day in Times Square died and media coverage that followed made it better known that the woman thought to be the other subject was not known to the sailor depicted and had related that it was not consensual, controversy over the statue gained new momentum with more accusations that it depicts a sexual assault. The day after his death, the statue in Sarasota was vandalised with #MeToo graffiti. A tweet from the police department stated late one evening that they had dispatched officers to the statue in response to a report that "Unconditional Surrender" had been vandalized. When officers arrived, they saw the large words, "#MeToo", painted in red on the left leg of the woman. The police noted later that they were uncertain of the time of the tagging because no surveillance cameras captured the activity and there were no reports of witnesses.
2010: Hamilton, New Jersey
A 25' styrofoam copy of Unconditional Surrender, built in 2005 and on loan from the Seward Johnson Atelier was installed at the 42-acre Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) in Hamilton, New Jersey as part of a retrospective honoring Johnson that ran from May 4, 2014, through July 1, 2015. Writing up this event, a staff writer for The Trentonian described Unconditional Surrender as a "masterpiece".
2011: Pearl Harbor
In August 2011, a life-size copy of the statue was unveiled in Waikiki, Hawaii, and later taken to the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, where it was to stay to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the end of World War II.
2012: Civitavecchia, Italy
In 2012, a monumental statue of Unconditional Surrender could be seen in Civitavecchia Marina.
2013: San Diego re-installation
The bronze replacement Unconditional Surrender statue arrived at its new home on February 11, 2013. On February 11, 2013, the replacement was bolted into place near the location of the previous copy installed.
2014: Caen, France controversy
In September 2014, the copy of the statue in Civitavecchia, Italy, was removed and installed at the Caen Memorial in Normandy. In Civitavecchia, controversy arose with hundreds of demonstrators protesting against the dismantling.
It was precisely this installation in Caen that generated a converse controversy, of objection to its display. In October 2014, French feminist group Osez La Feminisme petitioned to have the statue removed and sent back to the United States, stating, "the sailor could have laughed with these women, embraced them, asked if he could kiss them with joy. No, he chose to grab them, with clenched fists, to kiss them. It was an assault." Following this incident, the Caen memorial placed a plaque under the sculpture to explain the identity of the woman and information known about the scene depicted.
2015: New York City temporary exhibition
On August 12, 2015, the first copy of the statue was temporarily installed in Times Square, New York City, near where the original photograph was taken. It was to be displayed through August 16 for a "Times Square Kiss-In" event. Johnson dubbed it "Embracing Peace" at this event, using a double entendre when spoken.
Other locations that have displayed copies
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy
Copies of the statue can be found in around the world. The popular Roman cruise terminal of Civitavecchia in Italy has one that is very tall and overlooks the sea. It is a short walk from the cruise ships on the way to the train to Rome.
Royal Oak, Michigan
A copy of the statue arrived in Royal Oak, Michigan on June 18, 2016, and was installed in the city's Memorial Park on June 20. The city manager expected that the sculpture would increase tourism and help raise money for The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial, a permanent World War II memorial in the park. The statue was removed six months later, on December 20.
Key West, Florida
A copy of the statue was placed in Key West, Florida on January 10, 2017. it is located in Downtown Key West, in the Mallory Square area. In front of the Custom House Museum and across from the Mel Fisher Museum.
A copy of the statue is at the Mémorial du Mardasson, in Bastogne, Belgium. It is located outside the museum on the grounds between the museum and the pentastar Memorial.
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- Media related to Unconditional Surrender (sculpture) at Wikimedia Commons