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Update: This Guerrilla Statue of Extinct Butterflies in Golden Gate Park Is Now Gone 

Written by Christina CampodonicoPublished Apr. 27, 2023 • 1:30pm
An unknown artist installed this guerrilla sculpture near the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park just before Earth Day. | Astrid Kane/The Standard

Update: The San Francisco Arts Commission shared in a statement Friday that the unauthorized sculpture titled “Memorial to the Extinct Xerces Blue Butterfly” has been taken down and was removed off-site on Friday morning.   

“The Arts Commission recognizes the importance of raising awareness for the protection of endangered species that face the threat of extinction and for the advocacy and conservation of wildlife and natural habitat protection,” the commission wrote in a statement. However, it said rules and procedures still apply.  

“The Arts Commission must approve the temporary or permanent installation of any work of art on City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) property, or any proposal funded in whole or in part by City funds (regardless of its proposed location),” wrote the commission in a statement. “The Arts Commission does not condone the unauthorized use, intervention or installation of artworks on CCSF property that have not gone through the proper evaluation and approval process.”

Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, also responded, stating:

“I am very disappointed that the commission decided to take down this statue. While the statue may be gone, the need it represents is not. The good news is that everyone can make a difference when it comes to insect conservation – whether that’s planting a pollinator garden, rethinking pesticide use, or joining an organization like the Xerces Society to help protect our remaining pollinators.”

A mysterious butterfly sculpture has popped up in Golden Gate Park, and its unplanned presence is delighting locals while perplexing city officials. 

The guerrilla art piece is dedicated to the extinct Xerces blue butterfly, which was last seen fluttering through the Bay Area in the 1940s. It appeared right before Earth Day—suggesting that the monument is not simply a memorial to bygone butterflies but a commentary on humanity's destructive tendency toward reshaping the natural world.

According to our own shoe-leather reporting, The Standard has verified that the sculpture has taken over a concrete plinth that previously held a statue of Junípero Serra, the Spanish priest who founded California’s mission system. 

The artwork’s plaque, dated Earth Day 2023, says that the Xerces blue butterfly was driven to extinction by “the destruction of the sand dunes of the San Francisco Peninsula” and “was last seen in the Presidio on March 23, 1943.” 

Locals spotted the sculpture in the shadow of Golden Gate Park’s infamous Ferris wheel earlier this week and gushed about it. 

“This is a beautiful piece of art, and I feel like SF really hit it out of the park with this new installation. It should be on everyone’s new list of cool, hidden gems to visit,” wrote Broke-Ass Stuart, who first reported the unsanctioned installation

The memorial occupies the pedestal of what was once a statue honoring Junípero Serra. | Astrid Kane/The Standard

"This is a beautiful statue," said Xerces Society Executive Director Scott Black. "Not only is it a wonderful piece of art, it is a compelling message about extinction and the need to conserve all animals including insects."

The sculpture joins art pieces such as Monumental Reckoning in replacing controversial statues of historical figures like Serra, “Star-Spangled Banner” writer Francis Scott Key and Civil War general and later President Ulysses S. Grant in Golden Gate Park.  

Extinct for eight decades, the Xerces blue butterflies once lived in western San Francisco's sand dunes. | Astrid Kane/The Standard

While the Xerces blue butterflies are long gone, the status of this statue in Golden Gate Park is uncertain.

The San Francisco Arts Commission, which oversees statuary in Golden Gate Park, seems to have gotten butterflies in their stomach. Reached for comment, the commission told The Standard it would issue a formal statement on Friday.

Christina Campodonico can be reached at

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