You asked, we answered: 34 things you probably don’t know about Atlanta

What happened to the giant ants at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport?

Giant ants crawling on the ceiling at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Photograph courtesy of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

We assume you’re asking about Brute Neighbors, a sculpture composed of nearly 200 individual, foot-long red ants that swarmed along the walls, ceiling, and ductwork above the baggage-claim areas. The whimsical and mildly unnerving artwork, created by local multimedia artist Joe Peragine using polyurethane with a high-gloss finish, had greeted arriving passengers to the airport since 2001. But in May 2016, the insects vanished without notice—even Peragine hadn’t been told they were coming down. People got antsy.

The fact is, artwork and exhibits come and go at Hartsfield-Jackson, which employs three arts administrators. Commissioned works like the ants—funding for which comes from a 1 percent share of capital-project budgets—are selected in a panel-review process that usually includes local arts professionals. Artists, curators, and arts groups are invited to submit proposals for rotating exhibitions.

Sometimes marketing wins the day. The giant photomural by Deborah Wian Whitehouse of children playing in the Centennial Park fountains that hung above the long arrival escalators? That space gave way to an LED video wall featuring a Porsche ad, then to Atlanta tourism info. An image of Whitehouse’s piece is now in the video rotation; even for familiar-bordering-on-iconic pieces, there’s no guarantee of permanence.

As with the much-beloved fountain photo, people noticed right away that the ants were gone. When they disappeared, the airport’s official line was that they were removed and placed in storage in preparation for an extensive renovation of the terminal that’s expected to last until 2022. The scurrying insects were intended to represent the harried travelers at the world’s busiest airport, which last year served more than 107 million passengers—and the metaphor is as apt as ever. But fear not, ant fans: An airport spokeswoman now says the crawlers are slated to be reinstalled in 2020.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.