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Kiss Statue Leads To Resignations, Disappointment

Aired 3/16/12 on KPBS News.

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.

"Unconditional Surrender," by J. Seward Johnson, is a depiction of a famous 1945 Life magazine photograph taken in Times Square in New York when the end of World War II was announced.
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Above: "Unconditional Surrender," by J. Seward Johnson, is a depiction of a famous 1945 Life magazine photograph taken in Times Square in New York when the end of World War II was announced.

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.

Comments

Avatar for user 'jimiangst'

jimiangst | March 16, 2012 at 10:33 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Where else but at the SDUPD can you find boosters and supporters of a multi-millionaire hobbyist suggesting educated, working class advisors as elitist while dismissing their own experts as making "creative decisions"? The Port Commissioners have rejected art that they did not like (nor understand) by reputable artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Nancy Rubins, Vito Acconci, and many other artists while entertaining cheap copies and appropriated designs by non-artists, architects and developers. Who is elitist?

At the heart of this is a 20-year legacy of unelected (and thus unaccountable to the public) patronage appointees making decisions about public art while listening to neither art experts nor the public. If this unattributed copy of Alfred Eisenstaedt's V–J Day in Times Square is built - it is certain to be every bit as popular as the "Cardiff Kook" for many of the same reasons…

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 16, 2012 at 11:41 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Michael Krichman and Hector Perez, I have one thing o say to oth of you:

**Thank you!!**

Thank you for dedicating yourselves to bringing the arts to this own.

Thank you for taking a firm decision on this piece.

Thank you for telling the idiots on the port commission to, as in the famous words of a country western song, *Take this job and shove it!**

The more this story unravels, the more I'm afraid we are in for a drawn out battle similar to "children's" pool in La Jolla and the Mt. Soledad cross.

My hope is that someone will commission a fabulous installation that is a non-knock off to replace this cartoonish trash and stir excitement amongst people who don't want our waterfront looking like a childish playground for tourists to come and laugh at.

I have no ties to this other than being a resident of downtown, but I am mad as hell at the port commission right now.

If these pompous morons think this campy monstrosity is so 'magical', why don't they do 6 month rotations displaying it in their own yards.

I will do whatever I can do as a private citizen to make sure this thing is removed.

If anyone has any suggestions or if any groups opposed to this statue have formed, please let me know, I will help.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 16, 2012 at 11:47 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

San Diego County is the Alabama of California.

When real art like the Surfing Madonna is created, officials force it to be removed, but when a knock-off cartoon figure that other cities have rejected reaches the end of its loan, rabid dots at the port commission want to make it permanent.

Absolutely foul.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 16, 2012 at 11:48 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

**rabid dolts, not dots*

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Avatar for user 'mapintar'

mapintar | March 16, 2012 at 12:45 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

The article unfortunately fails to mention that two Port Commissioners, Scott Peters and Bob Nelson, voted against permanent placement of The Kiss statue. There stated reason is that the Port asked these volunteers for their expertise and thus, the Commission should honor it.

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Avatar for user 'gbenford'

gbenford | March 16, 2012 at 9:27 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Public art invites disagreement. Expect it.
I rather like the Kiss. It's far more memorable and enjoyable than another pseudo Hellenic statue.

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Avatar for user 'barbara777'

barbara777 | March 17, 2012 at 1:24 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

I too love the Kiss - it is from a very famous photo taken years ago. So grateful that we may be able to keep it.

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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | March 17, 2012 at 1:27 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

This copy of the "unconditional surrender" statue is not unique to San Diego. There are at least four copies of this plastic and polyurethene statue currently loaned out to various cities around the US. This debate is about whether or not San Diego should continue borrowing one of those copies. Having it here doesn't make San Diego unique.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | March 17, 2012 at 2:34 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

The woman in the famous photo, when identified years later, said she felt she'd been "assaulted" by the sailor. She probably meant "battery" had been committed on her. In California, and virtually every state, battery is a crime. The California Penal Code section 242. Section 242 defines a Battery as any willful and unlawful use of force on the person of another. Put simply, a battery results when a person causes physical impact on another that is unsolicited and unwarranted. Being grabbed, forced against the body of another, and kissed is battery. A statue of a woman being held and kissed against her will glorifies atacks on women. That one of the program's guests attempts to excuse it by saying it "happened many places" doesn't make it permissible, and is yet another example of identifying women as sexual objects to be used as men wish. The "All the kids do it" excuse is childish. If you're male, ask a woman how she'd feel if grabbed by a total stranger, bent back, and having his spit put in her mouth.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 19, 2012 at 9:16 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

LEN, are you sure about that? She sure has a huge SMILE on her face for posterity!

I don't know, kinda like Linda Lovelace saying in retrospect that she was coerced! Oscar noms for Lovelance and Damiano? lol

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 19, 2012 at 9:17 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Agree with DUCK BUT remember, the Port Authority and the Encinitas city council are two different animals.

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Avatar for user 'Studying_Nomad'

Studying_Nomad | March 19, 2012 at 2:46 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Missionaccomplished, do you only smile when you're having fun? I smile when I'm embarrassed, uncomfortable, or not really sure what to do. I smiled on Saturday night as I pushed away an ugly woman who tried to “Irish kiss” me while I was out downtown. I pushed her away, but weren’t women back then raised to obey to men? How can you judge what she was feeling at the time? I’m sure you totally understand the less than a minute of reactions that she experienced better than she did. Good for you buddy.

As for the statue, it’s not cool, I’d use the G-word, but this is npr. When I jog by it, I feel nothing but harassed by the aggressive homeless guys that hang out there to hit up tourists.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 24, 2012 at 12:17 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Wow, the ignorance and absurdity of public officials in this backwards cowtown is staggering.

I saw an interview on KPBS this evening with two people who are trying to get the public to donate a million bucks for a permanent replica of this thing, and the reason one of them gave keeping this is because it represents a "time of peace".

Ummmm, it represents the U.S. dropping the first atomic bombs and an ushering-in of an era of nuclear proliferation and a long cold war that will bring the U.S. and Russia at the bank of global annihilation!

Where does San Diego find these dopes?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 24, 2012 at 12:18 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

At the *brink* of nuclear annihilation

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 24, 2012 at 12:26 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Matt McCloughlin, President of the USS Midway Museum, was the person who made the ridiculous comments about this ugly cartoonish monstrosity being a symbol of peace.

This guy also had the nerve to declare a majority of San Diegans want this, even though no poll has been done, and no data exists.

Most people I know think it's an embarrassing piece of refuse and can't wait for it to leave, so I really wish some two bit ship museum manager would kindly refrain from making inferences about what we think.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | March 24, 2012 at 11:09 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

@MissionAccomplished. I don't know if the woman is smiling in the tasteless statute, but in the original photo her face is obscured by the sailor's head. (Google images.)

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Avatar for user 'aisle3'

aisle3 | March 24, 2012 at 11:16 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Having watched the embarrassingly timid piece with nothing but "Kiss" salesman I have to ask the question KPBS was afraid to ask.

Everyone knows and has said repeatedly that "Unconditional Surrender" is based on Alfred Eisenstadts August 14, 1945 photograph "VJ Day inTimes Square". This image is owned and protected by Getty Images. It is impossible to not ask how the promoters of this "thing" avoid dealing with the blatant intellectual property theft that "kiss" represents. American businesses and artists lose billions every year to this type of thievery.

I only hope Getty Images waits until they have raised the money and installed it and then sue to have the thing torn down and stored for a few years while the suit winds it way to the eventual end and we have a pile of bronze for scrap.

I'd rather have a giant ball of twine. At least it's honest

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 24, 2012 at 3:57 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Aisle3, well written! I agree with everything you wrote, and in the laundry list of reasons to get rid of this statue I never even thought about the legal implications of intellectual property theft. It is, nonetheless, an important consideration.

The funny thing is that I am told the one we have now is not even an original. Apparently there were several of these knock-off garbage statues created and displayed acrsoss the nation, and San Diego is the only city tasteless enough to want to keep one.

So now they are talking about making a knock-off of one of the knock-offs.

Insane.

This is not a tribute to the military, it's an insult.

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Avatar for user 'aisle3'

aisle3 | March 24, 2012 at 5:53 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Thanks Peking Duck Sd

Google J. Seward Johnson / Sarrasota or Unconditional Surrender/sarrasota and see where he had to indemnify the city of Sarrasota against a lawsuitsuit by the copyright owners . Let alone the legal ramifications and the possibility of a lawsuit it is blatantly unethical and immoral to champion stolen property no matter how warm and fuzzy it makes people feel.

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Avatar for user 'LBrixey'

LBrixey | March 24, 2012 at 9:43 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

@Len: Would like to know your source. An article I read quotes the woman as saying "“This guy grabbed me and we kissed. And then I turned one way and he turned the other. There was no way to know who he was, but I didn’t mind because he was someone who had fought for me.”

No where can I find where she felt she was "assaulted", as you state.

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