Those airport ants: The story behind the art at Hartsfield-Jackson

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010830-ATLANTA, GA: Preview story on art in public places. This one is Hartsfield airport featuring giant ant on the walls of the baggage claims, a bronze portal on the South parking garage entrance & 20 African sculptures between the T & A concourses. (PHIL SKINNER /staff).The giant ants marching above baggage claim. (PHIL SKINNER /AJC file).

Have you ever wondered about the story behind a piece of artwork you saw at the airport?

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is filled with more than 250 pieces of art, but in decades past, there was a centerpiece artwork that hung in the terminal, a phoenix mobile. After a reader asked whatever happened to the phoenix, the AJC’s Actual Factual Georgia looked into it. It was commissioned in the 1960s but hasn’t been seen around since the 1980s.

Today, one of the pieces of artwork that gets a lot of questions is the installation of ants crawling across the ceiling in the terminal baggage claim area. You can read about that piece, called “Brute Neighbors,” in an explanatory case hanging on the wall in the airport.


The airport commissioned the piece by Joseph Peragine in 2001.He was inspired by searching for bugs under a rock with his young son, and the title comes from a chapter in Walden by Henry Thoreau.

The ants, according to Peragine, are a metaphor for the millions of passengers at the world’s busiest airport.

Another piece of artwork that remains shrouded, not in mystery, but under a Porsche ad, is the mural of children at Centennial Olympic Park.

The smiling faces that greeted passengers coming up the escalators from the underground train to the domestic terminal were covered by an advertisement for Porsche earlier this year. The mural will eventually be replaced by a digital screen.

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