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Beverly Hills Asks Artist to Remove 'Moon Dial' Work

October 22, 1989|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 18 months of public display and controversy, "Moon Dial" is scheduled to turn into a pumpkin on Halloween.

"We're going to have a party on Oct. 31," Beverly Hills City Councilman Allan L. Alexander said after he and colleague Vicki Reynolds instructed the city's Fine Art Committee to have George Herms' sculpture dismantled by the end of the month.

The two council members, vocal critics of the sculpture, had asked Herms to remove it soon after its unveiling last year, but the artist declined.

Herms argued then that the city was obligated to keep the assemblage of rust-encrusted grates, buoys and a winch in place for at least a year and a half. That was the minimum time agreed on when the city's Fine Art Committee invited him to create "Moon Dial" for display in Beverly Gardens Park.

But now that time is up, and "at the direction of the City Council, we are asking you to make the necessary arrangements to remove the work," Ellen Byrens, chairwoman of the art committee, wrote the artist in a letter that was made public last week.

She added her thanks for "your generosity in loaning your work of art" and "your contribution to Beverly Hills' fine art program."

Herms could not be reached for comment, but he has said that he would like the piece to stay permanently at its site, a strip of parkland near the busy intersection of Santa Monica and Beverly boulevards and Palm Drive.

The artist said the sculpture would be left to the city as a memorial to George Slaff, a former Beverly Hills mayor who wrote a letter defending "Moon Dial" before his death earlier this year.

Herms also said that he has nowhere to put it.

But Councilman Alexander said the work would be trucked away for storage if the artist is not ready to pick it up by the end of the month.

"At least it won't spoil the beauty of our park anymore," he said.

At a meeting of the Fine Art Committee on Wednesday, members agreed to send Herms yet another letter of thanks once the sculpture is gone.

They also asked if other artists whose loaned works have been on exhibit longer than Herms' "Moon Dial" have been told to take away their creations. All the sculptures were accepted on an 18-to-36-month basis.

Librarian Michael Cart, the city worker in charge of the public art program, later confirmed that there has been no move to oust the other sculptures installed in the park last year.

None of the other works have excited as much controversy as Herms', he noted.

Committee member Jean Sieroty suggested that a donor might be found to give the city another Herms work in Slaff's memory.

But Byrens stressed that new rules imposed after the "Moon Dial" imbroglio leave little authority in the hands of the Fine Art Committee, which once acted largely on its own to accept or reject gifts and loans of public art.

Some members of the volunteer panel were unhappy about their new role.

"If we give up and fall into the hands of the City Council we're just a moot body," Joan Agajanian Quinn said.

But Byrens said she has been told that the City Council intends to play a more active role in deciding what art should be displayed in public places.

"The City Council has made it pretty clear to me they want to see whatever it is before they accept it," she said.

Although most of the public reaction to "Moon Dial" has been negative, at least one fan was moved to stage a lonely demonstration of protest against the ouster of the artwork.

Ken Fuher, an artist who took a day off from his job in an aptitude testing firm, spent six hours last Monday sitting on a wooden chair in front of "Moon Dial" with a sign reading, "Fine Art Committee: Your reaction to this artwork is classically 'Beverly Hills.' The inability to accept the reality of deterioration. Not everything is shiny and new! If we give it a face-lift and liposuction, can it stay?"

He said later that the reaction of pedestrians and motorists was "for the most part . . . good. I didn't want to change any minds. I just wanted to open some."

He said the exceptions were one stroller who spit at him and a driver who stopped her car, rolled down the window and yelled: "It's ugly. It's ugly. It's ugly."

"Finally I told her: 'You're not so attractive yourself. Does that mean you should be removed?' " Fuher said.

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