Public art experts came to Sarasota to restore the statue ahead of the anniversary of the end of World War II.
Ever since it found a home on the bayfront in 2010, the Unconditional Surrender statue has been through some highly visible rough patches.
There was the time a car crashed into it in 2012, which necessitated shipping the sculpture out of state for repairs. Pranksters stuck a fake piece of gum below the nurse’s shoe for an April Fool’s joke in 2015, and vandals spray-painted graffiti onto one of the legs of the piece this February.
The artwork has faced some lower-profile challenges, as well. That’s why earlier this month crews began work on repairing the sculpture in advance of the anniversary of the day Japan surrendered and ended in World War II.
The restoration effort is being undertaken by Seward Johnson Atelier, the studio of the sculptor who created the piece. Curator Paula Stoeke explained the factors that could contribute to the deterioration of a statue placed along the water in Florida.
“You’ve got heat and the sea air,” she said. “Both of those things are challenging for public art.”
A team of experts from Seward Johnson Atelier traveled to Sarasota to address any inconsistencies with the metal, to burnish portions of the sculpture and to restore the paint. Local cleaning company Gorilla Kleen assisted with power-washing the artwork.
Stoeke said the estate of Jack Curran, the man who lent the sculpture to the city, scheduled the renovation. Curran agreed to gift the statue to the city in June 2010. Per the agreement, Unconditional Surrender must remain on the bayfront for 10 years, at which point it will be officially donated to the city. Curran, a World War II veteran, died in 2015.
The art has been the source of controversy since Curran began his effort to permanently place the sculpture on the bayfront following a temporary exhibition. The Public Art Committee unanimously recommended against accepting the statue, and the City Commission approved the donation in a 3-2 vote. When the statue was vandalized this year, the graffiti read #MeToo, an apparent reference to the reportedly nonconsensual nature of the kiss that inspired the sculpture.
Unconditional Surrender also has passionate fans. John Cloud, owner of Gorilla Kleen, called it one of the most iconic locations in Sarasota. As someone who has worked to clean the statue over the past three years, Cloud said he felt the community and visitors were proud of the artwork.
“It’s amazing,” Cloud said. “Whenever I’m down there, there’s a huge line of people waiting to take pictures.”