This San Francisco Statue Is Doubling as a Busy Beehive

One of the de Young Museum’s outdoor sculptures is currently buzzing with attention

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

Located in the museum’s Sculpture Garden, the statue’s head is 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.)

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Over the past few months, beekeeper Marc Johnson, who’s a member of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association, has been tending to the statue, ensuring the existing (and growing) colony of bees are alive and well.

“I don’t know if I’m an artist, but I’m the chief beekeeper for this project,” says 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 two-year 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.

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 phenomena happens at temperatures below 57 degrees Fahrenheit.)

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

Climate crisis and dystopian 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.”

We will forever stan bees and Mother Nature.

SF transplant, coffee shop frequent; tiny living enthusiast. iPhone hasn’t been off silent mode in nine or so years. Editor of The Bold Italic.