It took feminists in France to take action against American sculptor Seward Johnson’s 25-foot-tall statue “Unconditional Surrender” installed at the Caen WWII memorial in Normandy this week.
The object of their disaffection is a figure of a sailor kissing a figure of a nurse. The action was taken from Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed photograph of the VJ-Day celebration in Times Square.
What’s objectionable about this image? The answer starts with Eisenstaedt’s description of the action he shot:
I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all – young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her.
The word “grabbed” is the operative word. While the sailor bends forward, the nurse is made to bend backward and, by the look of it, like a ragdoll – without volition. Fair or not, thoughts of drugged-out females that Bill Cosby is said to have assaulted come to mind.
The femmes – Osez le Feminisme –petitioned the Mémorial’s director, Stéphane Grimaldi to removal the work. As a group member told the press, “We cannot accept that the Caen Memorial erected a sexual assault as a symbol of peace. We therefore request the removal of this sculpture as soon as possible.”
They didn’t accomplish the removal, but they did get Grimaldi to install a plaque right next to the work stating the femme’s objections; which is more than can be said of American’s response to this work, even despite their many opportunities.
Seward has displayed several replicas of the statue in various American cities – San Diego, California, Key West, Florida, Snug Harbor New York and Sarasota, Florida. These replicas have been up for sale at each installation. If a city wants to keep it, someone has to buy it and with one exception nobody did anywhere in the U.S. (More about the exception in a sec).
Although I’m not in any way unsympathetic with their female complaint, my objection goes to Johnson’s lack of originality. He not only copies from other artists, but he copies the same thing over and over.
The only city willing to call the Johnson statue its own is Sarasota. A local WWII vet donated a half-million-dollar to the city on the condition that it agree to keep it for a decade exactly where he wanted it – on the city’s prime real estate – the downtown waterfront.
Never mind that the city’s Public Art Committee voted 5-0 against the sculpture owing to its rule against accepting reproductions as public art.
There’s also a problem with a copyright infringement lawsuit from Time, Inc., owners of Eistenstaedt’s photo. Johnson never got permission to make the copy, which stands as an infringement of Time’s copyright.
Are you getting this? Sarasota, which calls itself an art town, and even crows that it’s the art center of the southeast, remains the only city in American that opted to keep a plainly unoriginal work.
Clearly, money talked. Public space was bought –standards be damned. I’d settle for a plaque set alongside the statue.
Cherchez la femmes!