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Some Neighbors in Orbit Over Beverly Hills 'Moon Dial'

May 22, 1988|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

If modern art is supposed to evoke passion, the latest addition to the sculpture garden in Beverly Gardens Park is a success.

Called "Moon Dial," the sculpture consists of five rusted buoys surrounding a rusted mullioned window frame and winch. The pieces are on poles mounted in the ground at a corner of the Beverly Hills park where Santa Monica Boulevard, North Palm Drive and Beverly Boulevard meet.

The sculpture, by Southern California artist George Herms, has stirred up the age-old debate over what is art.

"Art would be the dismantling of that eyesore," offered John Brody, who lives on nearby North Maple Drive, as he scampered past the sculpture to catch a bus on Santa Monica Boulevard.

"I found it interesting," Councilwoman Vicki Reynolds said. "I don't respond to it like I might other pieces of art, but I have an appreciation for it."

'Art Is Controversial'

"We will always have some people who like black, and some people who like white," said Joan Agajanian Quinn, chairwoman of the city's Fine Arts Committee, the group coordinating the development of the sculpture garden. "Art is controversial. There is just no getting around it."

"I think it's wonderful that people here are finally talking about art," committee member Ellen Byrens said. "Before the sculpture was there, what were people talking about, the grass?"

Herms, who has taught or served as artist in residence at UCLA, Otis Parsons, UC San Diego and other colleges in the state, specializes in what is known as "found art" or "assemblage art," so-called because the material used in the pieces are existing objects rather than created.

"It's an orchestration of objects," Herms said. "I find them to be beautiful, while other people may see them as old rusted junk."

It is that perception of old rusted junk that has many residents calling for the removal of the sculpture. At a recent City Council meeting, resident Robert M. Magid said he drives by the sculpture every day and does not like what he sees.

"Many of us do not see the suit of gold that the emperor is wearing," he said, alluding to the fable of the emperor who was convinced that he was wearing a fine suit when in fact he was not wearing anything.

"This is the passion that modern art provokes," responded a smiling Councilman Maxwell H. Salter.

Quelling Some Complaints

City officials are considering a town hall meeting next month with Herms in hopes of quelling some of the complaints.

"If people will allow themselves to enjoy it in a leisurely manner rather than a superficially quick study," Herms said, "then they will experience a relation to the work."

According to his biography, Herms' work has been the subject of more than 30 one-man shows and has been represented in more than 50 group shows. Herms has won numerous awards, including the Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship and three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He is represented by the L.A. Louvre gallery in Venice.

Last year, Herms used similarly rusted buoys, a steel cylinder and a three-sided pyramid clock for a sculpture that was placed at McArthur Park in Los Angeles. Herms said the piece, "Clock Tower Monument to Unknown," was not initially well-received, but that with time it has been accepted.

"I'm crazy about it," art consultant Merry Norris, who is president of the Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Commission, said of "Clock Tower." "Really great art provokes a lot of discussion."

"Maybe it's a little rough looking, and not pretty, but it's not supposed to be," fellow sculptor Woods Davy said of "Moon Dial." "Generally, when people do not understand something, they are threatened by it. This is not supposed to be a pretty decoration. It's a strong, heartfelt sculpture that George has been doing for years and years.

"It's sad when people can't appreciate that, and just see a cosmetic surface and make a value judgment with that."

42 Pieces of Art

The idea for the sculpture garden came after adoption in April, 1982, of a city ordinance requiring developers to display art pieces in public areas of commercial buildings or pay the city a fee of up to $61,000 for a public art fund. There are currently 42 pieces of art on public display valued at more than $750,000, according to city spokesman Fred Cunningham.

After the public art program was in place for commercial development, the city started the sculpture garden. Beverly Gardens Park--along Santa Monica Boulevard between Whittier and Doheny drives--was selected because of its easy access and high visibility to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, according to Michael Cart, director of Library and Community Services. In addition, the park, 22 blocks long, is big enough to give the city ample display space.

The art is commissioned by the city but paid for by the sculptors, who lend it to the city for periods of 18 months to three years. In return, the sculptors get only visibility.

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