Visual Art Commentaries

Sarasota’s Unconditional Town Square
VIRGINIA HOFFMAN, SRQDaily October 29, 2011 

Everyone please sit down before you read further, in case you faint. I’ve decided that I like where Unconditional Surrender sits. Shocking isn’t it? Even Virginia Hoffman can change her mind. When confronted with the whimsical statue in 2005, it was shocking but the display was only temporary. In 2009, when Jack Curren’s donation of Unconditional Surrender was on condition that it remains on the bay front, I feared that this whimsy would end up branding Sarasota. Curren, supported by the Sarasota Veterans Commission, claimed it belonged there to serve as a war memorial. Brenda Terris, then Executive Director of the Season of Sculpture, brokered the deal and argued for the statue as a draw for tourists. Unintentional consequences abound, as there have been few veterans’ events at the foot of the statue and tourists’ cameras are being blocked by something else. Grass roots groups have staked their claim on that location, transforming Unconditional Surrender into Sarasota’s unofficial town square. Groups who demonstrate regularly are the Tea Party, the Democratic and Republican parties, candidates, anti-war protestors, Gay Pride Bridge Walk, Obama Bridge Walk, and now weekly demonstrations by Occupy Sarasota. Occupy Sarasota is adding their own twist by inviting artists, dancers, actors, musicians, photographers, filmmakers and art enthusiasts to join in with their own individual creative expression and brown bag lunch. Sounds like an old-fashioned grass roots picnic to me. What’s this all about? It’s Sarasota style of how things are done. Politics and Populism trumps all sense and sensibility, but maybe this is a good thing. A town of rugged individualists who hold on to their ideas and passions with vigorous debates that go on as squeaky wheels chip our best laid plans away. Eventually, folks figure out their own plan, take ownership and decide how they really would like to use a space. Years past demonstrations in Sarasota received with tension are now accepted, even appreciated as a diverse element to a vibrant city, and this location is perfect for that. This use does not elevate Unconditional Surrender to art status in my book. It proves that when cities have no urban plan to create a town square, put any large object in an open venue and it will become the unofficial town square for grass root activists