While much of American culture is based on the philosophy that “bigger is better,” creating something too big can sometimes be controversial. Currently, in Sarasota, Florida, a 25-foot rendering of “The Kiss,” entitled “Unconditional Surrender” is causing a ruckus and debates between supporters and opponents. While some like the piece and believe that it should stay where it is, others are adamantly against it blasting it as being comical and not “art.”
“Unconditional Surrender” is part of artist J. Seward Johnson’s “Icons Revisited” project, in which he takes familiar images and blows them up to a grand scale. Currently his works are sprinkled throughout the world and one of them is in Chicago, an American Gothic statue titled “God Bless America.”
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“God Bless America” is an homage to Grant Wood’s 1930s painting “American Gothic.” But instead of a canvas it has been molded in 3-D at an astonishing 25 feet!
A notable difference between the painting and the sculpture are the suitcases Johnson put at its feet. While at first glance the suitcases might represent travel, they actually represent outsourcing and the stickers display the names of places where American jobs have gone.
Whether anyone might get this deeper meaning from the piece, or just proclaim it to be “colossal kitsch” as did the Chicago Tribune is up for debate. And whether or not someone thinks that J. Seward Johnson’s works are art, they’re big, they’re bold, they’re beautiful: and just as those original farmers represented America, Johnson’s statues are very reminiscent of America’s past and the roadside culture that has faded in recent years.
So God Bless America, and hopefully those naysayers will realize that one man’s junk is another’s treasure. And, you know my opinion, the bigger the statue, the better.
While this statue was a popular tourist attraction on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for some time, it has since been removed. Since, it has spent time in Dubuque and Des Moines, Iowa. Currently, as of 2017, the statue stands in in Elkhart, Indiana.
Site: God Bless America – American Gothic Statue
Location: Pioneer Court, 401 North Michigan Ave., Chicago IL
Cost: Free to see.
Hours: Always visible (although the installation is probably somewhat temporary)
Date: August 16, 2009