Remember When This San Francisco Statue Was Also a Beehive?

In the summer of 2021, a statue at SF’s de Young Museum was caused by a thriving colony of bees just vibing and doing what they do best: helping pollinate Mother Nature’s chromatic flora.

San Francisco is home to a unique combination of outside artwork that coexists with the city’s urban nature. But there’s perhaps no more apparent nexus of the two than at the au naturel display that at one time enveloped around Pierre Huyhges’s Exomind (Deep Water) statue at the de Young Museum.

Located in the museum’s Sculpture Garden, the statue’s head was once covered by a beehive — occupied by a live colony of bees. (The concrete sculpture depicts a crouching woman, the posturing based on a small statue by the Japanese sculptor Tobari Kogan [1882–1927], whose work was influenced by European modernism.)

Around this exact same time in 2021, beekeeper Marc Johnson, who’s still a member of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association, had been tending to the statue, ensuring the existing (and growing) colony of bees at the time was alive and well.

“I don’t know if I’m an artist, but I’m the chief beekeeper for this project,” said Marc Johnson to the California News Times.

Before finding a permanent spot at the museum, the sculpture was transported across the country to various institutions. When the exhibit was packed in boxes, cameras would monitor the bees 24hrs a day to ensure they were safe and healthy; even when exposed to new environments, the honeybee colony’s sole mission remained to support the queen.

However, other bee colonies in San Francisco haven’t been afforded such attentive care by human eyes and ears.

California bee populations are still on the decline due to human-induced climate change. The most recent honeybee colony count in the state showed numbers fell 2.6%, which correlates to about 30,000 fewer beehives documented in CA between January 2017 and January 2019 — a number that’s only grown direr in the subsequent years.

Habitat loss, air pollution, worsening drought conditions, and inorganic agriculture practices remain the biggest threats to bee colonies — present and future. The climate crisis is set to exaggerate those issues while also creating a warmer world. Higher temperatures will make it harder for the bees to keep the internal temperatures of their hives between 93 degrees and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Temperatures exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit actually ground bees, leaving them incapable of flying and flapping their wings to properly cool their hives; the same phenomenon happens at temperatures below 57 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Johnson also noted that when the skies above San Francisco turned orange in 2020, his bee colonies stayed in their hives for three days.

With the climate crisis and other dystopias in mind, the museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art said it best when she said “bees literally have to be on our minds if we care about the health of our planet and our place in it and any kind of life.”

Cheers to this a lil’ reminder and signal boost that we will forever stan bees and Mother Nature.

Feature Image: Courtesy of Instagram via @deyoungmuseum

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