Art moves people. Sometimes they love it. Sometimes they hate it. But when Kathleen Callender rammed “Unconditional Surrender “ with her white Mercedes sedan, she moved not only the art but the argument.
After a crane un-stepped the gigantic statue and laid it on the ground for eventual repair, the statue was no longer a sailor stealing a kiss. The kiss is now a grope on the ground. Can somebody at least toss a blanket over the coupling couple?
“Unconditional Surrender” has been – to say the least – controversial. I’m gonna get in trouble for saying it, but women seem to dislike this piece of art, even VJ-day-era women. VJ-era men love it, the iconic Eisentstat photo come to life in giant size. The exuberance of victory caught in a snapshot.
My uncle wore the same sailor suit, but he never saw VJ day because he went to the bottom of the Pacific before the Japanese threw in the towel. All my other uncles, and my pa, they went to the war too. And I’m a veteran, and my son is about to enlist in the Navy after graduation from college. No wimps here.
But I had qualms about “Unconditional Surrender.” Sure it was extremely popular, which is a good sign for art. And it drew people to town, patriotic people and people in love. Who’s to say that’s bad?
So I resigned myself to living with “Unconditional Surrender.” I drove by and thought it looked like a sexual assault. Others drove by, and their patriotic fires were rekindled. And as I said, art moves people; it’s the function of real art to evoke strong emotion.
But now on the ground, it’s a bit too raw for my taste. No, it’s not porn. But it’s not uplifting either. It’s a sailor and a nurse wallowing in the dirt. And she doesn’t seem happy about it.
In time the coupling couple will be trucked away to New Jersey for repair. And we’ll find out how this aluminum casting is faring in the salt air of the bayside. Considering all the cracks in the casting, we’ll enjoy our bayfront minus the VJ display for awhile.
The famous couple will return eventually, bringing truckloads of ambivalence with them. They will resume their embrace at the point closest to where the bay meets the road, Sarasota’s prime point of artistic exposure. There they will resume Florida’s most exalted state: another roadside attraction.
But before they leave, locals should take a look at the famous couple lying in the dirt to see the impact of a 90-degree turn on a piece of sculpture. Is it grand now? Epic? Heroic? Or slightly blue and tawdry?
My last exposure to heroic sculpture was at the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, maybe two years ago. Real Greek pieces, not Roman copies or medievalist imaginings. The Greeks painted their sculptures, just as “Unconditional Surrender” is colored. But any of those Pergamum pieces would be as shockingly powerful no matter how they were rotated.
Perhaps I’m inventing a new art criticism motif: Rotate and reconsider. This is such a tony town, maybe someone will pick up on the rotate-and-reconsider concept. I hope not. My favorite pieces are heads-up and fiery. Etruscan.
Which is to say, sculpture is a competitive game played over centuries, millenia. I’m sure we’ll see our coupling couple again on our bayfront. I will neither cheer nor weep on that day. But I suspect members of the community will do both.