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The Rise, Fall, and Re-Rise of Venice's Kicking Ballerina Clown

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When Venice's unforgettable landmark, the 30-foot-tall Ballerina Clown, abruptly began showing signs of slow, subtle movement in its giant red pointe shoes earlier this week, very little was known about its provenance, aside from the name of the sculptor (Jonathan Borofsky) and the year of its unveiling (1989). Now Venice-based blog Lincoln&Rose tells the tale: Harlan Lee, the developer behind the clownerina's mixed-use home (now housing a groundfloor CVS), picked it because he thought it captured the juxtapositions in the neighborhood's complex character. A similar towering piece, exhibiting at MOCA at the time, clicked instantly with Lee, who saw in it the beauty and sadness of Venice—the ocean views, the homelessness, the funkiness, the pier, the head shops. But after the Clownerina's big 1989 reveal (when it was compared to pieces by Picasso and Seurat), the kicking didn't last long.

The careful movement of the clownerina's knee joint was small, but apparently noisy. Building tenants complained, and so the leg was stilled. Lee sold the building in 1990, but continued to be in contact with the housing association that's now in charge of the building and the ballerina.

Just this year, Lee, at the urging of then-MOCA-director Jeffrey Deitch (who rightfully pointed out that the sculpture was kind of "incomplete" without the kick element), reached out to the association about repairing the sculpture's broken leg, since the wires have long been damaged from exposure to the salty ocean air.

The wiring was successfully repaired and Clownerina's first kick in many years reportedly came during the Venice Art Walk on May 18. If you missed it, you've got plenty more chances. The sculpture is tentatively scheduled to perform every day from 1 to 6 pm.


[Video by Laura Hertzfeld]
· Ballerina Clown Kicking Again [L&R]
· BREAKING: Venice's Insane Ballerina Clown is Kicking Again [Curbed LA]
· Ask Chris Blog: Ballerina Clown [LA Magazine]