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Slowing down for sculpture

June 05, 2003|Scarlet Cheng | Special to The Times

Cars are whizzing by on Burton Way. "This is such a driving city, you don't stop," says Barbara Bowman, who has stopped at an intersection during her walking tour of the public art of Beverly Hills. "That's why we have an art tour."

The first Saturday of each month through September, Beverly Hills offers a free one-hour tour around City Hall that highlights the notable sculptures gracing the nearby corners and parks, as well as works inside City Hall and the main public library. It's a leisurely jaunt during which Bowman points out things "that delight the eye" -- things one can only appreciate by going about on foot, which seems an archaic form of transportation in this speed-by town.

Even if they've driven by for years, "a lot of people are surprised at what they see," she says.

That would include some name-brand sculpture. Starting in front of City Hall, we first visit a Mark di Suvero sculpture made of cut girder and construction remnants; it's called "Nexus Two." On loan from Tasende Gallery in West Hollywood, it's near two empty slots reserved for pieces yet to be borrowed. Farther along, we see donated or city-purchased works by Barry Flanagan, Charles Arnoldi and Magdelena Abakanowicz -- even Rodin and Henry Moore.

A resident of Beverly Hills for half a century and a member of the city's Fine Art Commission, Bowman is a petite, alert woman whose explanations are brief and to the point. She's been leading this tour for four years and finds anywhere from five to 30 showing up on the summer afternoons, many of them out-of-town tourists who've tired of eating and shopping.

After an introduction to the Spanish Renaissance exterior of City Hall and its 1990 additions, we walk briskly to Santa Monica Boulevard, where we look at a spindly figure by Flanagan of a lively, oversized hare beating on a drum. Then we backtrack to a section of Beverly Gardens Park behind hurricane fencing, just re-landscaped.

"This is a very beloved piece in Beverly Hills," Bowman says, pointing through the wire to a traditional metal sculpture of a young man flanked by a couple of his dogs, called "Hunter and Hounds" by Henri Alfred Jacquemart. This French work was donated by one of the first mayors of Beverly Hills, W. D. Longyear, in memory of a son who died in combat in France during World War I. "It has seven bullet holes in it, and it was brought back in 1924," our guide says.

Back at City Hall, we enter the lobby and find two works Bowman clearly favors and talks about a length -- a full-sized male torso by Rodin, and a seated figure by Moore. She points out all the uneven "bumps and lumps" that show Rodin's handiwork on the torso. "He wanted you to know this was done by man." The small Moore bronze in the corner is "Girl Seated Against a Square Wall," with a typical Moore distortion in the form and on loan from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.

After traversing City Hall, we go out the back, cross the street and pass the library, home, Bowman notes, to three Rodin busts -- the heads of authors Honore de Balzac, George Bernard Shaw and Victor Hugo, on individual pedestals. They are gifts from Iris and B. Gerald Cantor.

Outside, at the intersection of Burton Way and Rexford Drive, Bowman wants to point out three more works. As we walk, Bowman seems to be assessing their condition as well. She's happy to see that the re-land- scaping around "Hunter and Hounds" is nearly finished but disturbed to see that snails have attached themselves to "Spiral of Life" by Baile Oakes, a 6-foot-high loop-de-loop seated in a flower ring on Burton Way.

"What's remarkable is that it's made of wood," she says as we approach it. Formed of elegantly bent redwood and held together with translucent plastic pegs, the sculpture is situated in one of the mini-parks the city maintains.

Bowman reaches out her umbrella to knock half a dozen snails off the sculpture. Then she discovers more -- several dozens more -- on the underside, and she tsk-tsks. "I'll have to tell the park service about that."

The last piece she stops at is a roughly finished standing ellipse in cast bronze, "Home" by Charles Arnoldi, which has been placed on a pedestal against a background of foliage and a corner of the library.

Bowman maintains a steady pace throughout her tour, but she does like to point out different angles for looking at the art.

"Some works of art take into account the background they're placed in. Look through here," she says, pointing through the hole in the sculpture. "It kind of frames the background. It looks pretty good from here too."

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Art tour

What: Beverly Hills Civic Center Public Art Walking Tour

When: First Saturday of the month through September, unless it rains

Where: Meet the docent in front of City Hall, 450 N. Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills.

Info: (310) 288-2202

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