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East County Thursday, Jul. 16, 2009 10 years ago

Our View


This is one of those times when you wouldn’t want to be a member of the city’s Public Art Committee or its City Commission.

No matter what the members of these two bodies decide about the fate of Seward Johnson’s sculpture of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s extraordinary 1945 photograph, “V-J Day in Times Square,” they cannot win. The emotions on both sides are too volatile.

The “pros” and “cons” seem almost equally weighted.

In all of our years in Sarasota, we have never seen anything consistently draw people to Sarasota’s bayfront and consistently generate the happiness and joy that “Unconditional Surrender” has. It brings life to the bayfront.

It evokes a love of country, a love of Americanism, a reminder of who we are and of a time that was so extraordinary. We won. We won, gosh dangit! And that kiss told the whole story.

What’s wrong with all of that? What possibly could be wrong with celebrating all of that in the most conspicuous location in our city?

Purist-artists may hate “Unconditional Surrender” for its kitsch-ness, but in terms of visual interest, it certainly packs much more punch than the tall red-steel sculpture that for months stood unnoticed next to the big smooch.

So lighten up, naysayers and cranks. Gosh knows, Sarasota could use some livening up, a draw that attracts people, conversation and action.

What’s more, think creatively. It doesn’t have to stay in the exact location it stands today. Imagine a better context, a park-like design that gives it a better anchor and surroundings on the bayfront. To move it anywhere else most assuredly will kill its joyful effects.

Sarasota resident Denise Kowal raises an important consideration (see My View, page 7): Integrity.

Imagine if Eisenstadt were alive today and, to his surprise, learned that Johnson had converted his photograph to a giant, three-dimensional sculpture without asking. Imagine if you were an Eisenstadt heir.

This is troubling. The issue of copyright infringement has dogged Johnson’s “Unconditional Surrender” from the start.

This makes it an issue for the Public Art Committee and the City Commission. As a member of one of these bodies, before making a decision involving public property, we would want to know: Do the owners of the copyright have objections to this work or the display of it?

What often seems simple never is. As the discussions begin on the sculpture’s fate, those making the final decision first should have all of the facts.

Be wise, not emotional.

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