An illegally erected monument to an extinct butterfly was removed from Golden Gate Park on Friday by San Francisco public art officials.

The sculpture, “Memorial to the Extinct Xerces Blue Butterfly,” was “an unauthorized sculpture intervention of unknown provenance by an unidentified artist or group of artists that was installed on the vacant plinth that was previously the base of the Padre Junipero Serra statue,” San Francisco Arts Commission officials said in a news release Friday.

A “sculpture intervention” is designed to interact with an existing structure, artwork or audience, art officials said.

The rogue butterfly sculpture appears to have been placed on Junipero Serra’s old resting place at the intersection of Hagiwara Tea Garden, Music Concourse and Bowl drives over the Earth Day weekend.

The Xerces blue butterfly is the first butterfly species in North America to die off as a result of human behavior, according to information on the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation website.

It was forced into extinction in the 1940s as a result of development in San Francisco’s sand dune areas, the website says.

“The manner in which this unsanctioned and unpermitted work … was surreptitiously installed … poses numerous safety concerns.”

San Francisco Arts Commission statement

While the Arts Commission says it understands the importance of highlighting various environmental issues, it resoundingly disapproves of off-the-books art installations.

“The manner in which this unsanctioned and unpermitted work that was surreptitiously installed without going through the proper process and procedure as outlined in the Art Commission’s Guidelines for Temporary Public Art installations poses numerous safety concerns,” art officials said.

Serra’s statue sat atop the plinth from 1906 until June 2020, when a group of demonstrators pulled it down and defaced it, along with the bronze statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Francis Scott Key, all of which now reside in a “secure” and undisclosed location.

Recommendations for how to replace the toppled figures will come from the city’s Monuments and Memorials Advisory Committee, which is in charge of updating guidelines for how to select monuments and memorials in the Civic Art Collection, art officials said.

The committee’s report on the topic is expected to be released in late May or early June, although the Arts Commission has already indicated that it is looking for partnerships with underrepresented communities and artists.

To find out more about the process, people can contact the Arts Commission or call 415-252-2266.

Kiley Russell, Bay City News

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.