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Kiss Statue Leads To Resignations, Disappointment

The 25-foot sculpture of a sailor kissing a nurse may be popular with tourists on San Diego’s waterfront, but not with members of the Port’s public art committee. Today two of its members resigned in frustration.

The 25-foot sculpture of a sailor kissing a nurse may be popular with tourists on San Diego’s waterfront, but not with members of the Port’s public art committee. Today two of its members resigned in frustration.

Michael Krichman and Hector Perez, both leaders in the local art community, resigned from their posts on the Port's 12-member committee.

They said their input was not valued or respected by the Port's Board of Commissioners.

In a meeting that took place at the Port's administration building, committee members expressed their disappointment and a sense of defeat. Another threatened to resign later in the week.

The events leading up to this began last November when the public art committee voted 6 to 4 not to accept a proposed permanent version of the "Unconditional Surrender" statue. The committee consulted a newly developed Master Plan that outlines criteria for accepting donations and artwork to the Port's collection. After careful consideration, committee members decided the permanent kiss statue did not meet the criteria.

Fast forward to March 6, when the committee presented their findings to the Port's Board of Commissioners in a meeting that proved to be the linchpin in this drama. Commissioners said the statue is "popular" and "magical" and voted to accept the permanent version, which will be an exact replica of the J. Seward Johnson sculpture, but made out of bronze.

The tone and atmosphere at that March 6 meeting angered some committee members more than the commissioners' actual vote. Some committee members felt the commissioners were "condescending." David White, a local artist, said the commissioners talked to committee members "like children" and characterized their findings as "creative decisions" rather than rational arguments.

Perez, who is an artist and professor at NewSchool of Architecture and Design, said it was discouraging to have his education at M.I.T. "disrespected" after putting himself through school. Perez said, as a son of illegal immigrants, he's offended by the notion that their vote against the statue was elitist.

"That's not my background. That's not who I am," Perez told the group.

Terry Hall, general manager of Seaport Village, chairs the committee and is one of the longest-serving members. She encouraged the group to persevere. She said the statue is politically charged and therefore an anomaly, saying the future of the public art program is more exciting than ever.

Krichman countered, "at the end of the day, art that is going to have an impact is going to be political or conjure a political dimension." He added, the future will bring another "Unconditional Surrender" and another "Wings," referring to the proposed Wings of Freedom sculpture.

Susan Ronan has served on the public art committee for four years. She talked of her former profession as an interior designer and how difficult it was to work with clients who "didn't have taste." Ronan says the experience helped her realize not every project would be a success, but to appreciate those that were. She advised the group not to make hasty decisions.

"We should be the turtle, slow and sure," she said.

Larry Baza, owner of Noel-Baza Fine Art, seemed to agree, saying maybe "inch by inch" things will change.

The Port staff apologized for any "feelings of disrespect" felt by committee members. Yvonne Wise, director of public art for the Port, said in the future, she needs to "make sure the Board knows this committee has done its job."

In a phone interview prior to the meeting, Krichman said the whole experience gave him little hope for the future of the Port’s public art program.

"My recommendation is that we surrender unconditionally. And stop wasting the public’s money and the public land for a public art program generated by the Port that’s not worth doing the way it’s going to be done."

This afternoon, the Port issued the following statement regarding the resignations:

It's regretful that some members of the Public Art Committee were unhappy with the Board of Port Commissioners' action in regards to the donation of the Unconditional Surrender sculpture. The Board has the utmost respect for the input of all of its advisory committees, however, decisions are exclusively the purview of the Board of Port Commissioners. The Board looks forward to working with the Public Art Committee to create a great tidelands public art collection.

The champions of the proposed permanent version of "Unconditional Surrender" have to raise close to $1 million by the end of the year.

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