Clownerina: The Giant Ballerina Clown of Venice

The Ballerina Clown of Venice

Clownerina

The Giant Ballerina Clown of Venice

In Venice you can see a giant sad clown with rueful smile wearing a tutu and battered top hat perform the can-can on the side of a building.

The Birth of Clownerina

In 1989, the developers of the Venice Renaissance, a mixed-use building on the corner of Rose Avenue and Main Street that fills an entire block of pricey Venice real estate, commissioned sculptor Jonathan Borofsky to create an eye-catching sculpture to make the building stand out. So he did just that.

Borofsky created a 30-foot-tall ballerina in a tutu, standing en pointe, and topped with a stubbly-faced crying clown’s head and oversized white gloves out of aluminum, steel, wire mesh, and fiberglass. The figure also had a motor in its right knee that enabled Clownerina to kick its leg out as if it were performing a slow motion can-can. It was mounted to the Venice Renaissance building, right over the front door.

The Ballerina Clown of Venice
Jonathan Borofsky’s Ballet Clown, known colloquially as Clownerina, standing strong in Venice. Photo from the author’s collection.

As you might expect, something this odd divided opinion, and Clownerina was immediately controversial. Some people loved it, feeling that it was emblematic of the diversity that Venice is known for. Others, of course, hated it.

But the residents who lived in the Venice Renaissance hated it the most. Apparently, the mechanism that powered Clowerina’s ballerina kicks was quite loud and not at all pleasant to listen to. In response to resident complaints, the ballerina’s kicking was halted almost immediately.

So Clownerina stood, un-kicking it, for the next 25 years. At some point a CVS moved in to the ground floor of the Venice Renaissance (remembrances on when this happened vary wildly), but still, the Ballerina Clown’s leg remained still.


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How Clownerina Got Her Kick Back

In 2014 there was some interest in powering up the Ballerina CLown’s kicking leg once again. After all, a sculpture that’s designed to kick but doesn’t actually kick isn’t a fully realized sculpture. So the people that work on these things got to working and Clownerina’s first kick in 25 years happened during the Venice Art Walk in May of 2014.

Subsequent to this auspicious event, an announcement about the Ballerina Clown’s newfound mobility said that there would be kicking each day between 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM. That declaration was made seven years ago, and I have no idea if it’s still kicking or not. I’ve been by a few times over the years (Rose Avenue ends at Venice Beach a few blocks west) during that time window, and I’ve never the leg move — unless it moves very slowly.

The Ballerina Clown of Venice
The imposing figure of Clownerina as seen from across the Main Street. Photo from the author’s collection.

Clownerina’s Siblings

The Ballerina Clown of Venice is the younger sibling of another Ballerina Clown sculpture Borofsky created. Just 12 feet tall, the original Clownerina had been on display in MOCA in 1986. This smaller version also sang a mangled version of Sinatra’s “My Way” as its leg kicked out, ostensibly to the rhythm.

At one point there was another Borofsky-sculpted Ballerina Clown in the courtyard of the Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen, Germany. You can see part of it (the bottom) in a photo on Google Maps, and this video on Vimeo, but both are from 2016 so it’s uncertain if the German Clownerina is still kicking.

And while you’re in Venice, do yourself a favor — head east on Rose a few blocks and order Double Cheeseburger from the Win-Dow, one of the 12 Best Cheeseburgers in Los Angeles.


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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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