I absolutely love the 1945 “V-J Day in Times Square” photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
It is a beautiful, historically significant image that captures an explosive release of pent-up emotions. It shows that the pain of war was passing and healing was beginning — all expressed by a sailor’s impromptu and strong embrace for freedom, future and life. A plethora of emotions were all captured in the best of four shots, by a World War I veteran who died in 1995 at the age of 96.
Eisenstaedt’s artistic ability has been recognized internationally. His photograph was published by the most widely read magazine in our country, amid our celebrations of the end of the war.
The “V-J Day in Times Square” photograph always makes me take a good, deep breath. Surely the donor offering to purchase “Unconditional Surrender” is similarly, deeply moved by Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph, loved by so many for 64 years.
I detest, however, the computer-generated, oversized, horrendously painted, uncreative mass of materials by Seward Johnson called “Unconditional Surrender” that pollutes Sarasota’s most important visual landscape. Without the slightest professional integrity or personal respect for the art form and quality the original photograph exudes, Johnson’s imitative piece takes as hostage the emotions that are generated by viewing the original Eisenstaedt photograph.
“Unconditional Surrender” victimizes the iconic “V-J Day in Times Square” photograph and the artist, Eisenstaedt. Johnson never received (nor asked for) authorization from the Getty Museum, which now owns the rights to the image. Johnson tends to copy the works of dead artists and probably would never risk the same arrogant disregard of well-defended rights, such as those of the Walt Disney Co., for instance. Disney closely protects its images, packs a powerful threat to infringements and can afford a copyright battle against a multibillionaire. Also, let’s face it, Disney already has oversized Mickey Mouses. It has been doing things in a big way for years, appropriately and in the right context.
Many fundamental questions about Johnson and his factory-created statues exist: his lack of artistic credentials, his lack of integrity regarding the art of another, the failed quality while executing the concept, the outrageous price tag for what is just mass-produced kitsch. Is this the type of artist or item, Sarasota should support — morally?
Sadly, the piece seems to be challenging judgment about what is or is not appropriate to support.
Supporters seem to feel insulted that many point out that this item does not qualify as “public art.”
I feel that the donor and supporters, on a subconcious level, are emotionally blackmailed and blinded, possibly because of their love of the Eisenstaedt photograph, their country and personal military service.
Feelings that are a result of the original photograph do not justify placement of the “Unconditional Surrender” statue, and asking our city leaders to be ignorant to the facts is ludicrous.
Please send the message that integrity, execution and creativity matter to Sarasota by shipping that mass of material called “Unconditional Surrender” back to its maker, who clearly believes big is the only grading criteria.
Denise Kowal is a longtime Sarasota resident and retail merchant.
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