A recent proposal to bring a second war-themed statue to Sarasota’s Bayfront stimulated heated discussion about public art and the types of sculptures that are desirable and appropriate there. But throughout the discussion no one mentioned one of the biggest sculptures of them all — the tall blue glass monument to finance and commerce located just across the street. Whether or not you believe buildings can be art, this building’s scale, prominent location, and impenetrable reflectivity say something about the activities that take place within.
Monument to Finance
At a more human scale, the object below was “just lying there” in the sand along the breakwater. You can make of it what you will. Regardless of what you see, its presence and the light were a reminder that sometimes meaning can be found just lying at our feet, needing no monument to be raised into the sky.
Public art on a grand scale often garners attention, both good and bad. The 25 foot tall “Unconditional Surrender” by Seward Johnson along the bayfront in downtown Sarasota is no exception. There has been plenty of controversy since it first arrived here in 2005, with some calling it tacky, inappropriate and out of place along beautiful Sarasota Bay.
Also known informally as “The Kiss,” the sculpture appears modeled after the iconic Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of a sailor returning home on V-J Day, kissing a nurse and nearly sweeping her off her feet. The artist claims a public domain photograph of the same couple was the actual reference for the sculpture.
In addition to criticisms of its artistic merit and debates about the proper attribution of sources, the sculpture has raised issues about the concept of unconditional surrender in war and in the woman’s surrender to the man. On the day these photographs were taken, the sculpture had been defaced with red paint running down the inside of the woman’s leg onto the ground at her feet.
Public art is often intended to decorate or beautify a public space, and many argue that this piece is garish and fails in that regard. However, if public art is also allowed to bring sensitive issues into a community’s awareness, perhaps there are ways this piece succeeds after all and is no more out of place than the structures, vehicles and ideas swirling around it.
We no longer trust beauty as a serious means of investigation. But it can be ... In fact, beauty can be incendiary; it can be subversive; it can make us cringe.
-- David Maisel, Photographer
"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it." -- Anais Nin
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders of the universe, the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.” -- Rachel Carson