Following an early career as a painter, Seward Johnson turned his talents to the medium of sculpture. Since then, more than 450 of Johnson’s life-size cast bronze figures have been featured in private collections and museums in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, as well as prominent places in the public realm such as Times Square and Rockefeller Center in New York City, Pacific Place of Hong Kong, Les Halles in Paris, and Via Condotti in Rome. Seward Johnson initially became widely known for his sculptures depicting people engaged in every day activities. Johnson’s desire to highlight the mundane in his Celebrating the Familiar sculpture series has brought a unique voice to the world of art in public spaces.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. introduced Johnson’s Impressionist-inspired series entitled Beyond the Frame with a spectacular solo museum exhibition. This body of work, consisting of elaborate tableaux that allow viewers to walk into the scenes of familiar Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, went on to New York’s Nassau County Museum, Jacksonville Florida’s Cummer Museum of Art, and the Museum of Art & History at the Custom House in Key West. The show is continuing to tour museums throughout the U.S.
Seward Johnson’s most recent series, Icons Revisited, asks provocative questions concerning our society’s embrace of particular visual icons, and their impact and shift of message over time. Concurrent to this third body of work, Johnson has begun to enlarge a select few sculptures into monumental scale for placement in the public domain. To date these twenty to thirty foot tall presences have been on view, or been purchased for permanent display, at the City of Palm Springs, Sarasota Florida’s Season of Sculpture, the Port of San Diego, Rome’s International Sculpture Biennale, the Museum of Caen in Normandy, France, Australia’s Bendigo Art Gallery, and numerous cities in the US and abroad.
Johnson is often recognized for his most dramatic work The Awakening, a giant aluminum sculpture, which sprawls in breadth, across an expanse of seventy feet. For many years at the National Park’s Hains Point in Washington, D.C., the piece is currently sited along the Potomac River at National Harbor. This work was profiled in LIFE magazine, Time Magazine and has become a “must see” destination in the nation’s capital. Additional castings of this work are now installed in Chesterfield, Missouri, and the city Viterbo, Italy. In recent years, Seward Johnson’s monumental scale sculptures have captured the attention of the international media and a global audience. Among these is the twenty-six foot tall Forever Marilyn with her skirt blowing upwards, defying the stainless steel and aluminum materials. This sculpture debuted along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, and then gathered crowds in Palm Springs, California. One of the Marilyns went on exhibition with the municipal museum in the state of Victoria, Australia at the Bendigo Art Gallery in the spring of 2016. Displays in China and elsewhere are on the calendar for the film legend’s larger-than-life homage.
“Perhaps Seward Johnson is most renowned for Embracing Peace (formerly titled Unconditional Surrender), his iconic “kiss” sculpture, which depicts the moment in Times Square when the sailor and nurse spontaneously rejoiced in celebration at the conclusion of World War II.
The exhibition history of Seward Johnson’s work includes the Galleria Ca D’oro of Piazza di Spagna in Rome, the cities of Berlin and Hannover, Germany, Oxford, England, the RW Norton Art Museum, the Knoxville Museum of Art, an eight city tour of Brazil, numerous World’s Fairs and Olympics celebrations, the island of Sardinia, Italy, The Dubuque Museum of Art, the cities of Lisbon, Portugal, Madrid, Spain and Yale University. Corporate collectors include the Nike Corporation, Dial/Viad, the Commerz Bank, as well as myriad hospitals and universities. Pieces are held in private and municipal collections in such distant locations as Istanbul, Turkey, the Ukraine, Sydney, Australia, Monte Carlo and Osaka, Japan. Johnson has long been considered one of the most widely recognized sculptors of our time. He was invited by an international arts committee to mount a monumental work for the G20 Summit of world leaders that took place in Sicily. Exhibitions and placements occurring this year and next will include Capri, Italy, Amsterdam, Albany, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as an eighteen sculpture exhibit on view along New York’s Broadway.
Seward Johnson’s impact on the world of sculpture has not been limited to his personal artwork, and includes the founding of The Johnson Atelier and the founding of the spectacular Grounds For Sculpture. Inducted in 2014 into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, the artist regularly adds works to all of his series, and invents intriguing new chapters of his oeuvre. At 85, Seward Johnson continues to create increasingly memorable works for the public realm.