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Kissing Sailor Scheduled To Depart

The 25 foot sculpture on the San Diego bayfront called

Above: The 25 foot sculpture on the San Diego bayfront called "Unconditional Surrender." It is based on the famous photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt featuring a soldier kissing a nurse on V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945.

The kissing sailor sculpture, officially titled "Unconditional Surrender," has been on temporary loan to San Diego since its arrival in 2007, courtesy of the Port of San Diego. That loan has been extended twelve times over the years. Though scheduled to leave at the end of 2011, a representative from the Port says the 6000-pound sculpture will now be removed at the end of February.


Aired 1/4/12

For six years, a 25-foot sculpture of a sailor kissing a nurse has towered over a bay-side park in downtown San Diego. KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone says it’s been on temporary loan and is now scheduled to depart.

The sculpture by J. Seward Johnson references an historic photograph by the late photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt. Snapped at just the right moment, Eisenstaedt's photograph features of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, celebrating the end of World War II.

Johnson's over-sized, brightly painted sculpture has romanced some and repulsed others.

When he was a member of the Port’s Public Art committee, San Diego architect Donald Reeves was instrumental in bringing "Unconditional Surrender" to the city's G Street Mole Park. He suggests that those who are critical of the statue "go down there and stand for ten minutes. Listen to all the comments and look at the thousands of people - not hundreds - but thousands who come by." Reeves goes on to say that "Unconditional Surrender" is "by far the most popular tourist item in San Diego. Nothing else comes close."

Reeves is currently trying to raise funds for a permanent, bronze version of the statue for the same location. This proposed version would look exactly like the current statue and be built at the same scale. The estimated cost of the proposed permanent sculpture is $990,000. Reeves says he has a long way to go, having not raised even a third of the required funds.

In 2007, we talked about "Unconditional Surrender" on the KPBS talk show "These Days." The show starts off with art critic Robert Pincus talking about how "Unconditional Surrender" fails on an artistic level. He called it monstrous in an article he wrote in the U-T San Diego and reiterates that on the show.

Early on, Pincus talks about what public art can and should do in a community. The show goes on to include callers chiming in on what public art means to them.

Later in the show, we talked with Catherine Sass, who was the public art director for the Port of San Diego at that time, and Anthony Block, the then chairman of the Port of San Diego's Public Art Committee. They talk about the Port's process for selecting public art.

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Avatar for user 'rlpincus'

rlpincus | January 4, 2012 at 5:51 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

So glad to hear that "Unconditional Surrender" will be departing. As your story mentioned, I was horrified by this crummy sculpture in 2007 and still am. The thought of a proposed bronze of the same is an equally dreadful idea.

Having met and interviewed the iconic photographer whose famed image is the source of the sculpture, I am nearly certain he would have detested it. Alfred Eisenstaedt's picture was a slice of visual history and all context is removed with J. Seward Johnson's giant geegaw. Thanks for reporting the news of its imminent exit.

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Avatar for user 'KFreitas'

KFreitas | January 4, 2012 at 6:25 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago


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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | January 5, 2012 at 1:40 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Reeves doesn't mention that the majority of the people who view and take photos of the statue are Japanese tourists who arrive by the busload. Not sure why it is such at attraction to them, since it represented their nation's defeat in WWII.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 5, 2012 at 3:11 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Reeves goes on to say that "Unconditional Surrender" is "by far the most popular tourist item in San Diego. Nothing else comes close."


Does Reeves actually think people visit San Diego to see that 6th-grade godzilla-esque art project?

It is an absurd, albeit somewhat funny, suggestion.

Good riddance "Unconditional Surrender" Godzilla as you lumber away to crush another city's artistic culture.

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Avatar for user 'volunteer4kids'

volunteer4kids | January 6, 2012 at 9:20 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

At first glance, I thought this was a rather kitschy piece of art. But, after walking around it, I really began to like the spirit of it. After touring the Midway, it made a great discussion point for my grandkids of the many levels of sacrifices of war. And the joys and spontaneity that happened a's we celebrated the end of a war, and the beginning of the homecoming our troops.
And, it is a fun, happy change to so much other public "art".

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Avatar for user 'nonayerbsns'

nonayerbsns | January 7, 2012 at 3:08 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Wow, the hate is overwhelming. Granted, it is not the iconic photo, but the intent was to be a homage. In that case, it succeeds. If it weren't for this incredibly large sculpture, the majority of people today under the age of 40 (at the very oldest) would be completely unaware of the photo. In addition, the post from the gentleman, above, about using it as a tool for discussion with his grandchildren also justifies it. My husband, native san diegan and over 50 btw, didn't know the story of the original photo. He just thought this was a cool statue. i told him the story, pulled up the information online and voila, another soul enlightened.

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Avatar for user 'nonayerbsns'

nonayerbsns | January 7, 2012 at 3:20 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Okay, i'm back, this time, with my husband and his comments:

Hello Pincus: I don't know where you get your information and think that your comments about that statue are way out of line for this simple reason: The military history of this town goes way back to the early days... the early 1900's. The military came to san diego and set up shop here. It was vital to its economy and i think that most people would agree with me that that statue is in a great place, representing SanDiego and its important military service. (most of the native population here have a military background... going back generations.) If anything, i thnk they should remove YOU!. Art critic my a$$.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 7, 2012 at 11:29 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago


As if one assault against the intelligence of everyone under 40 wasn't enough, you felt the need to bring your husband to the debate. I wasn't going to comment again, but his statement was too much to let pass.

First off, the military history of San Diego goes back much further than the early 1900s, as you stated. Perhaps you forgot that San Diego has flown other flags such as Spain, Mexico, and the California Republic.

Also, most of the population does not have a military background here. Active, dependents, and retired military account for less than 10% of the County's population.

Lastly, as a true native San Diegan, I can firmly say your comment "they should remove YOU" is not a very San Diegan thing to say, not to mention is a violation of the board rules. Much like that statue is a violation of the unique artistic culture of this city.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 8, 2012 at 5:20 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

I am glad this disgusting piece of rubbish is exiting, hopefully it will never appear here again.

Addressing some of the comments above:

(1) **It's a bad knock-off.** The picture it is based on is amazing, and I agree it's a complete insult to take such a spontaneous, master piece of photography and soil it by constructing this campy cartoonish eyesore as a homage to it.

(2) **Military hypersensitivity in this town.** Anything military, no matter what it is, no matter how horrid it is, must be worshiped by all according to radical military propagandists in this town. To suggest that someone who finds this thing repellant is somehow "unpatriotic" is absurd, and to suggest keeping this monstrosity simply because it is militaria is also absurd.

(3) **It's a popular tourist attraction.** Of course it is, but in a good way? No. People flock to see things that are bizarre, in good ways and in bad ways. Hoards of Tokyo tourists are not clicking snaps at this junky statue because they think it's high art or are jealous they don't have one in Japan, they are clicking snaps at it because it's a large, freakish, embarrassing monstrosity that they can show friends back home pictures of and laugh.

(4) **nonayerbsns's insults against posters who don't like this rubbish statue** - I'm not surprised that someone who is going around insulting others is a fan of this childish obstruction that looks like it should be relocated to Disney World.

I think I might treat my friends to a little celebratory night on the town downtown in celebration of the removal of this hideous embarrassment from our city.

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Avatar for user 'no_soup_for_you'

no_soup_for_you | January 8, 2012 at 7:38 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

@nonayerbsns, out of all the posts on here, yours make the best case for getting rid of this statue. Public art is about aesthetics, and because this statue has none you are furiously trying in vain to come up with all kinds of excuses to keep it. Bottom line is it's not appealing to most people, as someone else said it looks like a giant cartoon, so you are trying to come up with stupid excuses to bully people into accepting it. News for you, you can't bully people into accepting art. It either works or it doesn't, and this statue doesn't work.

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Avatar for user 'acsalinas'

acsalinas | January 9, 2012 at 7 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

I think the thing to keep in mind is that a large percentage of the greater San Diego area population is made up of military members. Maybe youve never been on either side of that kiss but majority of the people that go to visit that statue are there to see what their lives are about. They spend months to years waiting for the ONE kiss to make the world stop and to notify them that they can now begin living again. This statue reminds them of why they agreed to marry the military member they have devoted to support while their military spouse is defending your right to bash their statue. Maybe you should all spend a little more time thinking of why others see the statue important instead of investing so much time in why YOU don't like it

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Avatar for user 'no_soup_for_you'

no_soup_for_you | January 9, 2012 at 8:24 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

@acsalinas this is public art, art that all citizens have to view. There is art that appeals to me because it has special significance to my life, but that doesn't mean it has to be forced on display in public forever. Again, like nonayerbsns, you have to make an argument based on what it supposedly symbolizes and not based on how it looks because it looks hideous. If it's that important for military people then move it to a base or put it in a military museum.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 11, 2012 at 3:30 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

I like the sculpture.

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Avatar for user 'H_dupree'

H_dupree | January 26, 2012 at 5:23 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Why not a life-sized bronze sculpture? It might improve the aesthetics if it is not enormous and garish, fans would still have their homage and it would fit in better with the nearby Bob Hope sculpture group. And, it would likely cost significantly less than the 25-foot version.

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