World War II veteran Jack Curran probably thought his days on the battle lines were over when he retired from the military.
But the 88-year-old Sarasota resident had one heck of a fight on his hands when he proposed in May to buy the controversial “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture for $500,000 and donate it to the city, with one caveat — it had to stay on the bayfront for at least 10 years.
That stipulation pitted some members of the arts community, who saw the sculpture as kitsch that will ruin the view of the bay, against veterans groups and their supporters, who said it captured one of the greatest moments in history.
The battle raged on all summer long, and sometimes got personal, with sculpture supporters labeling opponents “unpatriotic” and opponents calling supporters “uncouth” and “irrational.”
“I didn’t think we were going to win it,” Curran said.
But he did.
At its Sept. 8 meeting, the City Commission conditionally approved accepting Curran’s donation and thereby rejecting the Public Art Committee’s ruling that “Unconditional Surrender” did not meet the criteria for public art and, thus, did not belong on the bayfront.
Before their vote, commissioners heard from nearly two-dozen people representing both sides of the issue.
“It’s not just a war memorial,” said Linda Becker. “It’s a statement of victory and life. When I look at it, I remember my cousins who are now serving abroad and hope they’ll come back safely.”
Kathleen McDonald, president of Art Center Sarasota, said “Unconditional Surrender” looms over U.S. 41.
“It’s creepy to me when I drive past it,” she said.
Opponents brought up a litany of other reasons why the donation could not be accepted: It was made in a Chinese factory; it was only supposed to be displayed for one season; there’s rust on it; it’s not well-anchored.
One woman even alleged that the famous Times Square photo, after which “Unconditional Surrender” was patterned, actually depicted a sexual assault.
“(It shows) a woman struggling with an unknown assailant,” said Kathy Benz.
City attorney Robert Fournier said there might actually be something to the last argument against the sculpture — that it violated a copyright.
He said Time Inc., which owns the rights to the famous photo, could file a copyright infringement lawsuit, although the original sculpture has been around for several years, and there are other copies around the country. No suit has been filed yet.
Curran’s donation calls for the city to keep “Unconditional Surrender” on the bayfront for 10 years. After that time, ownership shifts to the city, and it can do whatever it pleases with the statue.
Concerns over the lawsuit and the long-term liability due to things such as corrosion and hurricane damage caused two commissioners, Terry Turner and Suzanne Atwell, to vote against accepting the donation.
Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner voted in favor of “Unconditional Surrender” on the condition that the city not be held liable for any problems that arise. The motion was approved 3-2.
Curran was in the crowd while the vote was taken. A small smile of satisfaction spread on his face. This is his legacy. His wife died last year, and he has no family — save for the thousands of backers who voiced their support for his donation, many of whom lined up after the commission meeting to shake his hand.
They all had the same refrain: “I want to thank you for all you’ve done.”