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Art committee rejects sailor statue

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 13, 2009
  • Sarasota
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Saying that the “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture on the bayfront does not meet the standards of public art, the Public Art Committee rejected a request from a anonymous donor to purchase the $500,000 piece and donate it to the city.

The couple dozen veterans and supporters who were in attendance at the Aug. 12 meeting were not pleased with that decision.

“They voted to suit their own personal views of art,” said Dr. Rich Swier, president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission. “They just blew off the people of Sarasota.”

The 88-year-old World War II veteran who wanted to buy “Unconditional Surrender” had one condition — that it stay on the bayfront.

And that was the sticking point with the committee members and a few opponents who spoke at the meeting.

Kathy Benz said the only reason sculptures on the bayfront are tolerated is because they are there temporarily.

“(The bayfront) must not turn into a carnival freak show,” said Benz, who called “Unconditional Surrender” “a computer-generated knockoff,” “a fraud” and “a grotesque joke.”

But the majority of the speakers supported keeping the statue where it is, including Florida Sen. Mike Bennett, a Vietnam veteran, who became emotional when addressing the committee.

“That’s why I came home (from Vietnam),” said Bennett, choking up. “A kiss from my wife.”

Bennett presented a petition with 4,000 signatures of people who support keeping the statue on the bayfront.

Committee members accepted the petition, but gave a laundry list of reasons why they opposed accepting the donation, including: existing corrosion on the sculpture; the lack of a solid foundation; the existence of a tropical depression in the Atlantic, which Chairwoman Virginia Hoffman called a “hurricane” and said could come this way; and the opinion that it’s an “unauthorized reproduction” of a well-known photograph.

Swier said the corrosion is the donor’s concern and that the donor would address that before agreeing to pay $500,000. He said the city placed the statue on its current foundation and that could be easily remedied.

Season of Sculpture Executive Director Brenda Terris said she received a legal opinion that there would be no risk of copyright infringement.

Said Bennett: “I heard people say it was a copy of someone else’s work. I think the city of Sarasota is responsible for copying someone else’s work — the statue of David.”

Michelangelo’s David is on the city’s official logo.

“They were grasping at straws,” said Swier. “They were looking for a reason to turn this down.”

One reason Hoffman did not cite was her disdain for “Unconditional Surrender.” She has publicly called it “worse than kitsch.”

When the donor originally proposed buying the sculpture, he demanded it stay on the bayfront permanently, but his representatives told the Art Committee that he has loosened that requirement and only asks that it remain there for 10 years. After 10 years, ownership would transfer to the city, and city officials could then move it anywhere they wanted.

The donor is a widower and has no family. He had been searching for a way to leave a legacy.

With the Art Committee’s rejection, that legacy now rests in the hands of the City Commission, which will have the final say on whether to accept his donation.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].



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