Seward Johnson's "Unconditional Surrender" being installed in Caen (photo courtesy Le Mémorial de Caen, via Facebook)

Seward Johnson’s “Unconditional Surrender” being installed in Caen (photo courtesy Le Mémorial de Caen, via Facebook)

A French feminist organization has scored a partial victory in its effort to have an allegedly sexist sculpture removed from the exterior of a World War II memorial and museum in Normandy. The Mémorial de Caen in Lower Normandy contains a sculpture by Seward Johnson (he of “Forever Marilyn” infamy) titled “Unconditional Surrender” featuring the central figures from “V-J Day in Times Square,” Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photograph of a nurse and a sailor kissing — an image that has elicited its share of feminist critiques.

Seward Johnson’s “Unconditional Surrender” outside the Caen World War II memorial (photo by @jamie6112/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

The group Osez le Féminisme! (Dare Feminism!) collected 864 signatures on a petition calling for the work’s removal shortly after it was installed on September 23. “We cannot accept that the Caen Memorial erected a sexual assault as a symbol of peace,” a spokesperson for the group told the Daily Mail at the time. “We therefore request the removal of this sculpture as soon as possible.”

After meeting with members of the group, the Mémorial’s director, Stéphane Grimaldi, announced that rather than remove the sculpture entirely, a plaque would be installed alongside it outlining the feminists’ grievances, according to the Agence France-Presse. The group and the institution will also co-organize a one-day conference in March 2015 on the “place of women in historiography.”

The plaque outlining the group’s objections will be installed tomorrow, November 25. “Unconditional Surrender” is on long-term loan to the Mémorial, and is scheduled to remain in place through September 2015.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

53 replies on “Feminists and WWII Museum Reach Armistice in Battle Over Controversial Statue”

  1. Since when did progressive movements start wanting to destroy art? Even if this work was controversial, and let’s be honest – it is not, this type of attack on art should be rebuffed for the fascism it is.

    Only a completely self involved privileged asshole could be so blind to their own privilege that they would rally to a cause like this when actual issues of class struggle and human suffering exist in the world.

    These activists should be shamed for their self-indulgent and censorious ways.

      1. Nothing quite like watching every new generation of the most pampered and protected class of individuals that has ever walked the planet suddenly decide to flip the entitlement pyramid upside down, and claim themselves the newest class victims of “Herstory”, before they turn into carbon copies of their parents and sell out on their “causes” for more priviledges as adults later in life. Funny also, how very very few ditch diggers and sewer and construction workers you’ll find among the ranks of the “oppressed class” of university educated “comrades” these days.

        If you actually wanted to post a graphic reply that would be both far more appropriate and closer to the factual truth, that comment with the “not my comrades”-sign should have been of four doctors from the mental health care sector, discussing electroconvulsive therapy and the correct doses of psychopharmaca to your kind of ideologues.

      2. Since when did consenting heterosexual behaviour become “sexual assault” – the statue did not portray a sexual assault yet you are defending this false accusation as if it to protest against this false characterisation of heterosexual behaviour was “patronising” against the false portrayers.

  2. Are you kidding me? I can’t believe these nasty and petty women demanded the removal of an iconic WWII statue.

  3. Y’know if they had said, “This statue has no historical relevence here. It rightfully belongs in a history of the Pacific Theater display…” I’d have at least been half a ssed interested in getting on board.

    I’m not interested in the decendents of those we rescued hurt feelings because todays sensibilities are offended by yesterdays reality.

  4. That damn statue! I don’t know why you guys are upset about them getting rid of it. That statue has personally raped 10 women and is the most sexist thing ever. Did you know that, if a man walks by it, and the man is just an ordinary, nice, happy-going guy, he will instantly turn into a rapist just by seeing it?

    We need to fight rape. We need to STOP rape. And how do we do that?

    We must ban statues.

    Statues are the source of female inequality. And, as a feminist, it is my job to focus on what best will help women.

    That means getting rid of SOME art.

    In fact, you know what? Fuck it. All art. Not even some. That’s not good enough. ALL art has to be destroyed, along with free speech. Free speech is sexist.

      1. UGH! Sir, did you seriously just use the word “we.”

        I’m sorry, but that’s offensive. The word “we” is trans-exclusionary and applicable only to cisgendered binary level four Warlocks with +7 to Stamina and a health potion.

        The proper term is “CTIOE,” which stands for cisgender, Trans, Intersex, and Other.

        So, take the following sentence: “What are we gonna do about this?’

        ^^ This is offensive. Anyone who says this hates America and God and babies.

        The proper sentence is this:

        “What are CTIOE gonna do about this?”

    1. “The point” for you, perhaps. For me, it’s garish and tasteless. I’m happy that it offends you for other reasons, since I enjoy the company of fellow sufferers.

      1. You have a wild and paranoid imagination.
        And yes, I’m “just happy to see the crappy art cleaned up.”

        1. You have totally underestimated the nature of these feminist ideologues but fortunately for you many more of us have not. These ideologues will never be placated and their demands will be ceaseless unless we draw a line and say enough. Their entire shtick is based upon a victim stance even as privileged as they are they will continue this trope with men being portrayed as perpetrators of all ills that befall them until they are effectively challenged on their bullshit – don’t get in the way of that challenge if you are on the side of sanity.

          1. Im sorry you’re feeling so threatened. It’s unfortunate that you are not a woman — you could have been a “feminist ideologue,” but alas, you’re just a powerless man — a victim, bullied by privileged females. Must be tough.

          2. Ah, the white knight nature reveals itself in all its glory at last. Did it ever occur to you that the statue was not of sexual assault?

  5. I am finding feminism increasingly offensive. This is just blatant “nah nah nah nah nah nah” childish behavior. Why do we keep giving in to these infantile demands?

    1. Because ( at least in the US)…federal pork bloating dollars are now attached to every perversion of the American legal system.

    2. “Why do we keep giving in to these infantile demands?”
      For the same reason that we put up with your half-baked complaints.

      1. Putting up with complaints indicates tolerance.
        Giving in to these demands is capitulation.
        Both the complaints and the statue are forms of free expression.

  6. Perhaps they should include a plaque listing all the feminists who died fighting to protect France from the Nazis.

    I suspect it would be a short plaque.

    France’s Big Name Feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, was a collaborationist, working for Radio Vichy. How about a statue of Simone with a Radio Vichy microphone? That would show the patriarchy.

    These feminists have freedom because of the men they now want to call “rapists.” This is not just a criticism of a single man. It’s a slap in the face of every man who risked or lost his life so these harridans could call themselves “feminists” instead of “Nazis.” Thinking about it, I’m not sure there’s any difference between the two terms. Simone certainly didn’t think so.

    1. Their last contribution to the World Wars was planting white feathers of shame. Which is feminisms sole contribution to society. Shame, Blame, and ultimate acts of Lame.

    1. Wait. Femen is still scratching their heads on the logistics of carrying explosives without pockets.

  7. I remember reading what the woman said, the one who was portrayed in the Life magazine’s picture. This sculpture is a copy of it. She said she was taken by surprise by a complete stranger in the street, and felt stupor and awe. She disliked it totally. This sailor was celebrating the end of the war, the streets were buoyant, and he seized the poor woman. Yes, I agree, this is the portray of an assault.

    1. First off, they have never actually identified the woman in the picture, and secondly the two most likely women Edith
      Shain and Greta Friedman have come out on record saying it was
      enjoyable. Shain even went so far as to say it was a life enriching
      experience and Friedman flew back to new york to recreate it. Of the 8
      women who came forward to time 7 said it was enjoyable and one tried to
      sue everyone until she became a public laughing stock.

  8. A Feminist grievance plaque? Really? Perhaps the French feminists would like a statue of Marshal Pétain being buggered by a French Feminist Dominatrix in its place.

    1. Why not use the Iwo Jima statue as a starting point. That way you get to include Julian Assange, Robin Williams, Woody Allen, and Bill Cosby as the foundation on which the feminist flag raisers can stand. You know, just to see how fast they’d collect a thousand signatures to remove a piece of “art” like that.

  9. So, they find this offensive… 7 out of 8 of the people who came forward to identify as the girl depicted enjoyed the kiss and celebrated the end of the most brutal 5 years in human history.

    But standing naked in public, squatting and dropping paint filled eggs from your vagina is liberating, empowering and most definately art.

  10. I’m glad to see that no one here has claimed that it is ok to grab a woman you don’t know and kiss her (unless I missed it). And yet that is what this sculpture, in 2014, condones, based on what is known about the incident it portrays. Isn’t this kind of violation of another human’s autonomy exactly what the Allies were fighting against? This is not simply “heterosexual behavior,” and the so-called threat of feminism is to accord dignity and self-determination to everyone.
    More commenters should follow the link in the story where Sutton writes that the photo “has elicited its share of feminist critiques.” And especially read the link at the bottom of that story which addresses a number of misconceptions that persist here.

    Even if, hypothetically, we excuse the sailor for his actions back then, today when we are supposedly more sensitive to a person’s right not to be grabbed and kissed by a stranger, the sculpture anachronistically celebrates that predatory action, and not the defeat of fascism for which it was intended.

  11. Feminism challenges men to examine their habits of thought,speech, and action based on the possibility that we may not be the nice guys we thought, that some of these habits might affect the freedom or dignity of others. This is nothing to be afraid of.

    1. Let them without sin cast the first challenge.

      Feminists are not the champions of equality they think they are

      1. You shouldn’t have to be perfect to offer criticism. To demand this would grind all discourse to a halt.

        But it’s true that no one can speak for all feminists, only to specific experience, so do continue.

        1. “You shouldn’t have to be perfect to offer criticism”

          All feminism does is offer criticism. Thats it, and they seem to demand perfection from anti-feminists to comment on feminism.

          ” To demand this would grind all discourse to a halt.”

          That would be the feminist playbook.

  12. It is incomprehensible that so many men commenting here think that people ( in this case women) do not have the right to criticize the choice of this sculpture for a World War II memorial in France. I personally do not think it is an appropriate symbol to be next to a WWII memorial. And yes, there is a reason for women, and men who support women to understand why. First you should take a look at the source. The original photo has no known context behind it besides the name of the man who took the photo and the day it was taken. No one knows for sure who the man or the woman is in the photo (several have made claim to it) or whether she wanted to be kissed or not. One of the men who claims it is him says he was too wasted to remember whether or not it was him. Eye witnesses said an extremely drunk man ran around kissing anyone he could grab. No one knows for sure who the woman is. If it was known that it showed a man and a woman consensually kissing out of joy that the war was over then yes it could be a nice symbol of the end of the war to be placed in a museum or as a monument somewhere, but why in France? Why show two Americans kissing in NYC celebrating the end of the war at a monument in France? The photo which inspires the sculpture took place in NYC, not France. They are Americans, not French. As far as anyone knows the woman could have been a lesbian, married or engaged to someone else, a virgin or a person minding her own business as she celebrated on the street but not looking for a man to run up and shove his lips on her while he twisted her backwards to point of looking uncomfortable. She could have been horrified or repulsed by this random act. Have you men on here complaining about women being upset by this image ever been attacked by a man who overpowered you and tried to shove his tongue down your throat? Do you face weekly episodes of harassment in which a man is trying to aurally or physically violate you? If you had, then maybe you could understand the critique. There is also the fact that countless women were terrible victims during the war, as they were raped and abandoned by unnamed soldiers, many left pregnant and alone. And then there is the problem which is currently facing scrutiny of the epidemic of women being raped in the military. As a woman, I for one feel uncomfortable looking at this sculpture- and the photo has always made me feel that way as well. I am not saying it should be destroyed, I just don’t think it is appropriate as a war memorial. It is truly interesting and insightful that men choose to viciously attack women on this site who have filed a petition against the use of the sculpture without caring about the reasoning behind it. The use of snark and violent words are dished out with a sense of privilege. Men shout out that the protesters are : overprivileged, self involved, self-indulgent, pampered, protected, should receive electroshock therapy, nasty, petty, and offensive. You say “The politics of feminism and control over the voices, behaviours (sic), lives and resources of men. A primary pillar to the ability and power to do that is the incessant false accusation of violence toward women. ” So you think that all women who are against violence towards women are liars??? It is incredible to hear you attack all women who are concerned about this particular sculpture being placed specifically in front of a WWII Memorial in France, or who call themselves feminists, as if they should shut up, keep their thoughts and criticisms to theirselves and stay in their place (which seems to be under a man). It is revealing that so many of the men (thank goodness not all of them) commenting here are such control freaks that they cannot bear any criticism of the choice of this sculpture. What kind of sad world do you live in where no one should be able to express their criticism of something? Why do you instantly take the opportunity to attack and revile women, just because they criticized this work being placed at this particular site. Remember? The “feminists”(oh my what a dirty offensive word) who took issue were not saying the sculpture should not exist. They said it should not be placed in front of this WWII monument in France.

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