Sarasota city commissioners make clear their desire to retain ownership of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ and seek Public Art Committee’s recommendations on its storage during roundabout construction

John Henry sculpture Complexus also must be temporarily relocated before FDOT begins work on project at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue

Unconditional Surrender has been the focus of mixed views since it was installed at Bayfront Park. File photo

With the City of Sarasota having become the owner of the Unconditional Surrender sculpture at Bayfront Park, the City Commission this week voted unanimously to direct staff to seek recommendations from the city’s Public Art Committee on the artwork’s temporary relocation while a roundabout is constructed at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue.

The John Henry sculpture Complexus, which stands to the east of the intersection, also will have to be moved before the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) starts work on the traffic project after the end of high tourist season in 2021.

David Smith, the city’s long-range planning manager, explained that the expenses for moving the artwork into temporary storage, plus the cost of constructing new bases for the sculptures and reinstalling them, could run as high as $140,000, “so it is a significant [expense].” However, he said, the money would come out of the city’s Public Art Fund.

During the June 1 City Commission meeting, City Manager Tom Barwin also talked about the possibility that FDOT might waive its 25-foot height limitation for artwork in the center of roundabouts, so Complexus could find a permanent new home within the U.S. 41/Gulfstream structure after the project has been completed.

Barwin estimated that Complexus stands about 55 feet tall. However, he said, because of the nature of its design, the greater height might be seen as less of a conflict with FDOT regulations. (A webpage describing the artwork, among other John Henry pieces, notes that its height is 62.75 feet.)

Typically, the city pays $150,000 to place a sculpture in the center of a new downtown roundabout, Barwin noted. Therefore, he continued, if FDOT proves willing to cooperate, permanently relocating Complexus to the Gulfstream roundabout could end up saving the city money.

In the meantime, Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie made it clear with her motion that the commission will be looking to the city’s Public Art Committee members to offer up ideas about best practices relating to the temporary storage of both Unconditional Surrender and Complexus. She said the commissioners should rely on the committee members’ expertise.

Additionally, her motion called for city staff to contact The Sculpture Foundation Inc. in Hamilton, N.J., to determine whether it wants to move Unconditional Surrender from the future construction area. City Attorney Robert Fournier explained that the Loan and Donation Agreement pertaining to the sculpture calls for the city to first contact the foundation in the event the city for any reason plans to relocate Unconditional Surrender. That agreement, he added, gives the Foundation 90 days to undertake the effort, if it chooses to do so. However, Fournier pointed out that the commission could waive the 90-day timeline, giving the Foundation more time in which to handle the initiative.

At the outset of the June 1 discussion, Fournier reprised elements of a May 15 memorandum he had provided the commissioners. “For the past 10 years,” he said, “Unconditional Surrender has been on loan to the city for public display …” The Loan and Donation Agreement, which went into effect on June 11, 2010, provided that, after 10 years, the World War II veteran who purchased the sculpture — Jack Curran — or his trustees would donate Unconditional Surrender to the city. When Curran died in 2015, Fournier continued, the title to the sculpture passed to his trustees.

Knowing the 10-year period would be ending, Fournier added, he talked recently with the trustees. As a result, Fournier said, “The city now has the fully executed bill of sale and is the owner now for the first time.”

He also pointed out that a restriction in the Loan and Donation Agreement had made it necessary for the city to keep Unconditional Surrender “within the confines of Bayfront Park,” visible to motorists and accessible to pedestrians. “That restriction has now expired,” he added.

Complexus is east of U.S. 41. File photo

Further, Fournier noted, the City Commission vote on June 7, 2010 to approve the Loan and Donation Agreement was not unanimous. (His May 15 memorandum pointed out that it was 3-2. The statute has been controversial, with artists in the community having decried it as being “kitschy,” while veterans and members of the military have been drawn to it, often gathering at the base with family members for photographs. More recently, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the sculpture has been criticized by women as a symbol of sexual assault. The statute was modeled on a famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of a sailor grabbing a nurse and kissing her in Times Square during the celebration of the end of World War II in August 1945.)

No member of the City Commission voiced a desire to sell the sculpture as the discussion ensued on June 1. After Freeland Eddie made her motion, Commissioner Hagen Brody called Unconditional Surrender a “very popular piece,” adding that “it really just pays homage to the Greatest Generation and the successful victory in World War II.”
“I think it’s inherent in the motion that we do retain ownership,” Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch added.

Fournier concurred with her.

“Let’s let that be clear,” Freeland Eddie responded, pointing out that nothing in her motion indicated a desire to sell Unconditional Surrender.

Finally, in response to a comment Ahearn-Koch had made earlier, Freeland Eddie also included in her motion the direction for staff to ask the Public Art Committee members to look into the prospect of the city’s loaning Unconditional Surrender to another municipality during the period the sculpture otherwise would have to be in storage.

Smith of the city Planning Department said staff’s goal is to have both Unconditional Surrender and Complexus relocated by October. “The drop-dead deadline would be December,” he added.

The storage process and permanent display options

When Freeland Eddie asked Smith how long the physical relocation process would take for the sculptures, he replied that he anticipated no more than two days.

Further, Smith said, he had talked with Bill Riebe, director of the city Utilities Department, about space where the sculptures could be stored. Staff would mark off the area, Smith added, in an effort to prevent any damage to the artwork.

An FDOT graphic presented in March 2018 showed the tentative plans for the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. Image courtesy FDOT

Smith also told Freeland Eddie that he would work with staff to make certain the city’s insurance policy would cover any potential mishaps during storage.

“I’m real concerned about us storing these important pieces of art at the Utilities Department,” Freeland Eddie said, given the potential 400-day timeline between their removal from the bayfront area and their relocation to public spaces. “I think we need some historic expertise and direction on this” from the Public Art Committee.

In regard to the permanent new homes for the artwork, Freeland Eddie suggested that the Public Art Committee consider that, as well. She called for the committee members to offer their suggestions in the form of a report that the commissioners could discuss at a later time.

1 thought on “Sarasota city commissioners make clear their desire to retain ownership of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ and seek Public Art Committee’s recommendations on its storage during roundabout construction”

  1. While the forced kiss was more acceptable in the 1940s, we no longer live in the 1940s. With today’s perspective, I agree that a more appropriate location for Unconditional Surrender would be the Sarasota National Cemetery. There people could view the piece along with our honored veterans.

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