Send in the Clowns

Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC


The second floor inner ring of the Hirshhorn is empty except for guests, catering paraphernalia and 30 wall labels. To the left of each wall label, a spotlight (on since the start of the evening) indicates a specific place on the ground. Someone announces that the award will be given to Jeff Koons in 5 minutes. Suddenly, 35 clowns, each dressed in their own individual clown attire, ascend the escalator to the inner ring of the second floor. Each one is carrying a small white pedestal, two feet square and eight inches high in his/her right hand, like they’re going to work with briefcase in hand. Under each clown’s right arm is a heart-shaped box of chocolates (of various types). The clowns enter the inner ring of the 2nd floor, exaggeratedly frantic to find their spots in time to view the award ceremony, looking at the wall labels until they find their own names.

When each clown arrives at his/her place, they put their pedestal down just to the right of it, directly in the spotlight, with the handle facing the wall. They stand on top of their pedestals, hold out the closed heart-shaped box of chocolates and make a “tada” gesture. After applause (if any), they put the box of chocolates down on the pedestal and get into their looking/listening position.

They remain this way until the end of all remarks (about 5 minutes). They react, if they wish, in keeping with their clown character in non-disruptive ways.

When the remarks are done, they applaud extremely enthusiastically, encouraging the audience members around them to applaud wildly too, then pick up their chocolate boxes.

Each clown pretends to offer chocolates to people, but when someone is interested, the clown closes the box, puts it down on the pedestal (or has an audience member hold it), and makes the person do some kind of trick or feat before getting one. Examples of tricks/feats:

Tying a balloon dog (after being shown how) Balancing a feather on one hand
Hopping in a circle on one foot
Doing a chicken dance

Whistling an ‘80s song
Winning a thumb-wrestling match with the clown Shooting a balloon arrow through a balloon heart

Once the feat is accomplished, the person is offered a chocolate. This process is repeated until there are no more chocolates, or until just before 10pm, whichever comes first. At this point, each clown takes a cartoonishly grateful bow. They put the empty chocolate box under their left arm and pick up the pedestal with their left hand. Waving and solemn, channeling the outgoing president leaving the White House for the last time, the clowns go straight to the escalator and exit down two flights to the auditorium. The performance ends after the last clown has gotten off the escalator.