Earlier this week the NYPD shut down a block of Little Italy because a massive swarm of bees decided to relocate from their overcrowded hive into a city mailbox, effectively swallowing it up in a matter of minutes in a visually stunning spectacle of nature. A local beekeeper was called to isolate the queen and scoop 15,000 of bees safely away. No one got hurt, but the story generated enough fascinated buzz for us to wonder… Are bees inspiring? Why, yes! Here are our ten favorite artworks made with real bees, beeswax and honey.
Dutch designer Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny’s Unbearable Lightness at Design Miami / Basel 2010 was, essentially, a honeycomb Jesus humming with 40,000 live worker bees. As commentary on humanity’s after-life dreams and daily toils within society’s boundaries, Libertiny had his bees ooze out honey into the martyr’s porous flesh, working diligently, unaware of their transparent prison. We’re bees, get it? Meanwhile, the Holy honeyman appeared to float like a humanoid swarm.
Matthew Barney’s avant-garde “gothic Western” epic CREMASTER 2 has bees throughout. Most memorably, former Slayer drummer Dave Lobardo plays a solo to the sound of a furious swarm while Morbid Angels lead vocalist Steve Tucker gurgles and growls into the telephone while covered in bees. Together, these bees and metal rockers represent Johhny Cash and knock out one killer musical collab.
In an iconic performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965), the legendary German artist Joseph Beuys smothered his head in honey and gold leaf, cradled a furry bunny corpse and whispered art notes at it. The honey represented “an ideal society of warmth and brotherhood” and a direct allegory — bees make honey, people think.
In 2005, this performance was one of the pieces reenacted by Marina Abramović in the Seven Easy Pieces series at the Guggenheim. She also reenacted her own iconic performance Lips of Thomas (1975), where she gorged on a kilogram of honey and drank a liter of red wine, gasp! Then, she broke the glass, cut a star into her stomach, whipped herself, laid on a cross made of ice and bled. And you were worried about the kilogram of honey.
For her Landscape Series, Laura Ortiz Vega recreated photographs of Mexico City’s graffiti using the traditional artisan techniques of the Huichol Indians. She glued together painted threads with cera de Campeche beeswax, remixing the “aggressive, bodily and masculine” visual experience “into a more delicate, manual and feminine one.”
A bronze cast attached to a heat isolator faces a beeswax cast in this striking sculpture by Stockholm-based artist Anders Krisár. Naturally, it’s melting.
To shoot this iconic portrait, Richard Avedon advertised in beekeeping trade journals for months. When he finally found Ronald Fischer, Avedon surprised his model by asking him to strip. “In all off the years of beekeeping I had never worked bare-chested in a bee yard before,” Fischer admitted. Yes, he was stung repeatedly. There’s a less stoic version of this portrait.
Can you spot the little winged muse in Salvador Dali’s Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)? It’s down here, buzzing curiously near some Freudian fruit while Gala is about to be stung awake by a floating bayonet.
Using only bright orange beeswax, artist Markus Fiedler sculpts daggers, feathers and large-beaded necklaces. For a tinge of irony, he also makes lighters and matches.
For her early piece Dialectics, conceptual taxidermy sculptress Clare Morgan collected beetles, hornets and bees from “insectocutor” light trap machines in local butcher shops. Strung up into a perfect cube using nylon thread, the bugs surround a speaker playing live white noise.
Last fall under the Manhattan Bridge, euphoric ladies, dripping with melting beeswax, gyrated slowly while suspended from a wall. Part dance installation, part performance art, Sens Productions’s MELT was choregorphaed by Noémie Lafrance (who has previously taught David Byrne some fresh moves). It was quite the rapturous interaction. Love the bees!