The world changed on August 14, 1945. World War II was finally over after six long years. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was in New York City, where citizens and soldiers alike were buzzing with excitement and celebration about the end of the war. As he snapped photos of revelers in Times Square, he captured what would become one of the most iconic images of modern art.
Caught up in the giddy hysteria of the moment, a nearby navy man grabbed a nurse, dramatically tilted her back, and kissed her. The image, known as “V-J Day in Times Square,” has been reproduced and referenced countless times in the 20th century, all over the world. Eisenstaedt once said of the photo, “People tell me that when they are in heaven, they will remember this picture.”
Inspired by the passion and history of the photo, artist Seward Johnson decided to bring it to life in the form of foam and urethane statues that commemorate the kissing couple. The series, known as “Unconditional Surrender,” included a 25-foot sculpture that was installed inside San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Park.
While many of the sculptures were temporary, the city of San Diego decided to make the installation permanent by replacing the foam version with a bronze one, at the cost of one million dollars. The majority of the funds for the project were raised through donations to the USS Midway Museum, and in 2013, the statue found its permanent home at the Port of San Diego’s Greatest Generation Walk.
While the San Diego installation is arguably the most famous of Johnson’s statues, others still stand in private collections, museums, and prominent places in the public realm in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.