A larger-than-life sculpture by Seward Johnson depicting the iconic 1945 image of a sailor planting a kiss on a nurse arrived in Key West on Tuesday morning.
“Embracing Peace,” a 25-foot, 15,000-pound piece, was installed by crews outside the Custom House Museum, 281 Front St., in advance of a year-long exhibit celebrating the centennial of the Navy’s aviation presence on the island.
It is a copy of an identical statue on display in downtown Sarasota.
“The Navy in Key West” opens Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Key West Museum of Art and History at the Custom House.
Originally called “Unconditional Surrender,” Johnson’s giant sculpture replaces another 15,000-pounder that greeted visitors to Key West’s downtown called “Time For Fun,” which shows a couple dancing and is based on a Renoir painting. Crews dismantled “Time For Fun” on Tuesday.
Johnson, 86, was in town Tuesday to watch the noisy installation of his sailor sculpture, which has been shown in San Diego and most recently Royal Oak, Mich.
During an interview broadcast on Facebook Live he took note of the criticism his 2005 piece has taken by those who view it as a drunken sailor grabbing an unwilling woman in public.
Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1945 captured a uniformed sailor holding a nurse in his arms in New York’s Times Square on the day most Americans learned of the Japanese surrender in World War II, known as V-J Day.
“I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this vice grip,” Greta Friedman told CBS News in 2012.
“The feminists complained about the ‘Unconditional Surrender,’ so I agreed with them,” Johnson said as he sat in front of the installation. “It’s been long enough since the second World War. I call it the ‘embrace of peace.’ ”
Johnson added, with a laugh, “I cautioned them to spell ‘peace’ the right way.”
Johnson said, “I was in the Navy, too, you know. I was a white hat. I tried to do everything like this wherever I went because I was 20 years old when I joined. I was in the Korean War.”
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen