“Controversy May Actually Work” As Royal Oak Considers Giant Kiss Statue

GallowayCollensTOPsunsetREVISED“Controversy May Actually UrbaneAd_04Work” As Royal Oak Considers Giant Kiss Statue

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 7, 2016)

Royal Oak, MI – The City of Royal Oak is weighing out the possibility of having a 25-foot-sculpture placed at 13 Mile and Woodward depicting a famous scene of a sailor grabbing an unsuspecting woman on the street and giving her a kiss.

The temporary installation would help to attract attention, and ideally funds, to the World War II Memorial in the works for Memorial Park.

SaharaNEW02A memo from City Manager Don Johnson describes the benefits and the anticipated objections, but notes that “In the end, controversy may actually work to draw additional attention to the piece and to the memorial organization and its plans for the permanent World War II Memorial.”

The memo details the proposal:

The Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial has ambitious plans for a permanent World War II memorial in Memorial Park….

In order to draw attention to their long term plans and to assist in raising funds for that project, the organization would like to temporarily install another large piece of art on the site of the future memorial or on other city property near the site. The piece in question is a 25 foot tall three dimensional depiction of a famous image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times royal_servicesSquare on VJ day. The sculpture, by Seward Johnson, was originally known as “Unconditional Surrender” and later was called “Embracing Peace.” It is also sometimes referred to as simply the “Kiss.”

The sculpture has been somewhat controversial but extremely popular in other locations. The art critics hate it. They have used words such as monstrosity, kitsch and tacky to describe the piece. In France, a feminist group even petitioned to have it removed claiming it depicted a sexual assault. There was also a question of possible copyright infringement as Johnson did not secure the rights to the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of this scene. He claims to have worked from another photo which is in the public domain. I’ve been told this has been resolved but I have seen no proof of that. The statue has been reported to be wildly popular with veterans and the public however. People love to be photographed with it. Attachment 5 Pledge_side_bluecontains several news articles about the statue. Others can be found by searching on “Unconditional Surrender,” “Embracing Peace,” or “Seward Johnson.”

‘In the end, controversy may actually work to draw additional attention to the piece and to the memorial organization and its plans for the permanent World War II memorial. The Michigan World War II legacy Memorial has some very creative ideas for marketing the statue’s appearance in Royal Oak. They are confident it will be a big draw and has the potential to be a big fund raiser.”

A Mother Jones article gives history and insight into the kiss:dinos02sidelogo3

“On VJ  day in 1945, the sailor, George Mendonsa, was drunk by his own admission. So drunk that even with his girlfriend and future wife in tow—she’s the head peeking behind behind his shoulder in the LIFE photo—he grabs a random woman and kisses her. The woman was Greta Friedman, a dental nurse. This was the first time she’d ever laid eyes on him.

‘Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. It wasn’t that much of a kiss.” she said in a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project. “I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss…it was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.”

The Mother Jones article goes on to say “The caption that  baby modern natural 03accompanied the photo when it appeared in LIFE hints at something less romantic too: “In the middle of New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.” She’s clutching at herself rather than embracing her kisser. The sailor is uninhibited because he’s drunk. But these details were lost in the happy, romantic narrative surrounding the photograph.”

The Daily Post interviewed the man and his wife, who is also seen in the LIFE photograph – in the background. According to the couple it was their first date.

One of the articles attached in the agenda packet, taken from RoadsideAmerica.com, notes the allure of looking up the woman’s skirt, and claims that the sailor depicted died in 2014 after spending “the last several years of his life charging women $10 to take a picture of themselves kissing him on the cheek.”

The Daily Tribune reported that Russ Levine, who is on the committee hoping to bring the statue to Royal Oak, said “There’s a tremendous opportunity to drive folks to Royal Oak and to Oakland County. And there’s an opportunity to leverage that for the benefit of retail and restaurants in Royal Oak.”

The City Commission would need to approve the installation, and would need to cover the cost of insurance – which was not available in time for inclusion in the commission packet.  The Commission meeting takes places Monday at Royal Oak City Hall beginning at 7:30pm.

View this item in the agenda packet at http://www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us/sites/default/files/meetings/City%20Commission/2016/WWII%20Memorial%20Request.pdf.


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