Hurricane Sandy is expected to delay the forthcoming return of the attention-garnering “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture back to its permanent post.
The 26-foot-tall, aluminum sculpture was slated to return to the bayfront sometime in November. That was before the New Jersey town where it is undergoing repairs was hit by Superstorm Sandy that left in its wake severe flooding, fallen electrical lines, downed trees and some areas without electricity.
Unconditional Surrender’s arrival in Sarasota — 1,100 miles south of the Mercerville, N.J., studio where it is being repaired — is likely to be delayed for several weeks, said Tom Savage, founder of the Sarasota Public Art Fund (SPAF), who spoke last week with the sculptor making the repairs.
A representative at the sculpture foundation of artist Seward Johnson, who created the sculpture modeled after the iconic photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse at the end of World War II, said the foundation now expects a reinstallation date during the first two weeks of December.
The larger-than-life sculpture was removed in April, after a woman driving a four-door white Mercedes Benz smashed into the base of the statue, causing enough damage to the structure to force it to come down. It was shipped to Johnson Atelier, a New Jersey studio that fabricates and installs art sculptures.
Before Superstorm Sandy hit, the repair was one of the main projects at Johnson Atelier, and it was expected to be brought back to Sarasota sometime this month and reinstalled during a “Welcome Home” ceremony.
Savage spoke with Charles Haude, the executive director at Johnson Atelier, last week.
“There may be a delay because of it (the hurricane),” Savage said. “I think we are talking a matter of weeks.
“It’s not the statue. It’s what happened to their location, and the cleanup after the storm,” Savage said. “Their infrastructure (at the studio) has been affected by that storm, and that might cause some problems.”
Last Friday, a receptionist at Johnson Atelier said workers, including Haude, were busy cleaning up the studio’s property after the storm.
The sculpture drew big crowds to the bayfront, and its absence has not gone unnoticed.
Savage said he has talked to tourists who have asked him about the sculpture. Many were worried that the sculpture was gone for good.
“Oh no, it’s a temporary leave of absence,” Savage has told a few curious vacationers.
In September 2009, the commission approved a $500,000 donation from Jack Curran to keep the sculpture on the bayfront permanently — the purchase price of the sculpture from Johnson was $500,000; $50,000 in other donations was set aside for insurance and maintenance.
Veterans, especially, have been drawn to the sculpture.
Madison Hipps, a former sheriff’s deputy and Vietnam veteran is excited to see the sculpture come back in December.
“There are two great pieces of art in Sarasota: the Ringling Bridge and Unconditional Surrender,” says Hipps, a Sarasota resident. “And both were opposed.”
Hipps said the sculpture brings an important historic moment to life.
“People travel from all over the world just to take their picture with Unconditional Surrender,” he said.
Not everyone is in love with the art piece, though.
When the sculpture was initially brought to Sarasota, the city’s fine-arts community gave it a much harsher review. Some local artists said the statue was unoriginal, and they hoped it would go away.
Just across the roadway from Unconditional Surrender, Complexus, a 70-foot-tall red sculpture, will also find a permanent home on the bayfront. With its massive scale and hard lines, the steel sculpture created by John Henry is a different concept of art than the “kissing statue.”
It will stay thanks to a total of $525,000 that was raised in donations, including a $250,000 donation from Sarasota resident Jan Schmidt. Throughout the past several months, despite a tough economy, $175,000 in donations was collected by the Sarasota Public Art Fund to purchase the piece from Henry.
“Each, in its own way, is special,” Savage said of the two.
Although Unconditional Surrender has won the admiration of crowds of visitors and residents, and struck an emotional connection for veterans, Complexus has “pleased and captured the attention of the artistic community,” Savage said.
Both sculptures originally appeared along the bayfront as part of the Sarasota Season of Sculpture’s exhibition that takes place every two years.