Unconditional Surrender

Sarasota’s story

This is an informational blog intended to provide factual and critical information regarding statues titled, Unconditional Surrender by J. Seward Johnson II, sought to be placed within the city of Sarasota, Florida, a copyright infringement controversy about them being derivatives from the copyright photograph, V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, that was published in Life magazine in 1945, and the failing of any of them to meet the city standards established for acquiring public art.

History

Unconditional Surrender here nicknamed, KISS, first appeared in the Sarasota Season of Sculpture show on the Sarasota bay front in 2005. That copy was made of fiberglass and intended only for short-term display at the third exhibition on our bay front held by SSOS. Jill Kaplan, its executive director claimed that the statue was destined to be “the Eiffel Tower of Sarasota.”  The public art advisory board for the city normally advises and recommends to the city commissioners when public art is placed on public property. During the first two exhibitions of sculpture on our bay front by SSOS, the art board did have a review and made recommendations about the shows, but under the recommendation of then city manager, Michael McNees, in 2004 the city commissioners removed the board review process.

SSOS normally puts on biannual shows on the Sarasota bay front following their stated mission: Our mission is to bring large-scale public works of art, created by world-class sculptors to Sarasota”.

Seward Johnson is not a world-class sculptor. In fact, his work has been criticized highly as kitsch and no major art museums include his work in their collections. He donates his work and funds many exhibition of it.

Only original art qualifies for Sarasota public art, but an effort has been initiated to raise funds to purchase a copy of the statue in order to have it placed permanently on the bay front. At the end of the fourth SSOS display Unconditional Surrender returned to our bay front, only this time as a copy made from cast aluminum bearing a $675,000 price tag. Again the art board was not permitted to review or recommend on the replacement of the statue on the bay front. This was in 2006, when Brenda Terris, took over as the new executive director or SSOS.

An anonymous donor offered to purchase a bronze copy of the statue for $860,000 and donate it to the city, but the offer was withdrawn because of the copyright infringement issue between Johnson and the copyright holders, Getty Foundation and Time-Life Inc.

Another anonymous donor offered to purchase an aluminum copy of the statue in 2009 with a condition that it remain on the bay front, to which it was transported for yet another display. In May of 2009 of the arts board voted to move the aluminum copy of the statue to a waterfront site at Ken Thompson Park. Getty continues to assert that the infringement of the Alfred Eisenstaedt V-J Day in Times Square copyright remains unresolved and that the Johnson statues are unauthorized derivatives of the famous photograph.

The current anonymous donor insists that the aluminum copy of the statue, which he wishes to give to the city, remain on the bay front and that a delayed payment be approved that would not be completed until his death.

From the moment one of these statues came to Sarasota, they have been controversial and created an undercurrent in the community, a cultural war between those who wish to see one of them retained permanently and those who consider them inappropriate for permanent installation as public art in the city, especially on our bay front.

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