When Ringo Starr decided to live full time in Beverly Hills, he planned to honor his adoptive hometown with an extravagant gift — an 800-pound polished steel monument of his hand making a peace sign.
The city politely declined.
“The commission thanks Mr. Starr for his generous offer but unfortunately the donation did not meet the Fine Art criteria,” the city’s now-disbanded Fine Art Commission wrote after it voted unanimously to reject the Beatle’s gift in September 2017.
“They said, sorry Sir Ringo, thanks for your proposal, but you’re not an artist, and the work is not art,” said sculptor Jeremy Morrelli, who helped Starr produce the version of the statue intended for City Hall. “They produced a definition of art which is extraordinary. They would have rejected Van Gogh or Picasso on those grounds.”
Tuesday night, the city changed its tune. The City Council authorized placement of the 8-foot-tall artwork on Santa Monica Boulevard, where is it expected to attract throngs of tourists when it is unveiled this fall.
“We want to be a city of love and peace,” Mayor John Mirisch told the city’s Arts and Culture Commission last week as it debated which location to recommend to the council. “When you take a picture with City Hall in the background, it symbolizes that.”
A city spokesman said the previous commission “had a narrow criteria” for public art and that the council could overrule it. But the journey from no to yes was littered with obstacles.
The city’s fine arts ordinance requires most developers who build in Beverly Hills to set aside a percentage of their total construction costs for public art, or to donate works of equivalent value that the commission must approve.
To be accepted, such pieces must be the work of an “established artist” with a pedigree of gallery showings and auction house records, someone who derives the majority of their income from art.
“The whole submittal process was all about the value of the piece,” Morrelli said. “It was all about this Beverly Hills version of art.”
For the 78-year-old Starr, who created “Peace and Love” decades ago and paid to ship the bronze original when he moved from Britain to Beverly Hills, the rejection came as a surprise, Morrelli said.
Starr’s team challenged the decision as soon as it received the city’s rejection letter, but by then the 14-day appeal window had elapsed, records show.
Yet Starr persisted.
“He said, we’ll give it another try, so we tried,” Morrelli said. “And then finally the success came with the changing of the guard.”
By the time Mirisch took office in March, “Peace and Love” was back on the agenda. The Fine Art Commission was reincarnated as the Arts and Culture Commission in April, and in May the statue was officially accepted.
But finding a place to display it proved fraught.
Starr, who could not be reached for comment, wanted to be sure fans could snap pictures with the monument — but only from the palm side, not the back of the hand, which is considered a rude gesture in the United Kingdom. (The agreed-upon location is framed by tall plants.)
Starr also wanted the sculpture installed on Santa Monica Boulevard in front of City Hall. His team proposed several locations, but the arts panel struggled to agree on one.
Traffic at one might endanger tourists. Another was deemed aesthetically unfit.
“It has to be at the city campus?” asked Stephanie Vahn, the committee’s vice chair, who was among the commissioners who voted to reject the gift in 2017. “You wouldn’t move it to Beverly Cañon park where kids could climb on it? It would be appropriate there.”
“That’s very small,” the mayor said.
“If it’s a draw, it’s going to draw people there,” said Zale Richard Rubins, the commission chair, who also voted against “Peace and Love” in 2017.
“You want it to be approachable, I think this is approachable,” Mirisch said. “I know there were other cities that were interested, and he said he wanted it in his hometown, and that’s wonderful.”
In the end, the panel settled on a prominent location in front of City Hall.
Starr sent a note to the council Tuesday afternoon, thanking the mayor and others “for their passion on this project. … I’ll see you all at the unveiling, Peace and Love — Ringo.”