A memorial to Joseph Grimaldi – the man who invented the modern ‘clown’ – has been unveiled by artist Henry Krokatsis. In keeping with Grimaldi’s spirit of performance, Krokatsis’ installation in north London invites the public to dance on a series bronze tiles that sit on top of Grimaldi’s grave. It even plays a tune…
On Grimaldi’s death on 31 May 1837 the London Illustrated News was moved to write, “Grimaldi is dead and hath left no peer. We fear with him the spirit of pantomime has disappeared.” His reinterpretation of the medieval ‘fool’ character led him to become one of the most famous clowns of all time, with the trademark clothes and face paint that he brought to the profession (see image below) defining the look of the modern performer.
In keeping with Grimaldi’s anti-authoritarian stance, Henry Krokatsis‘s memorial allows visitors to the recently reopened Grimaldi Park in Islington in London to, quite literally, dance on the old clown’s grave.
“Making a monument to a man who would have scorned the idea of permanence, heroism or any of the other qualities normally associated with funerary memorials was an interesting challenge,” says Krokatsis. “I wanted to create something that is constantly changing, a joyous interlude from the silence of death.”
Two caskets have been created from phosphor bronze tiles that react to pressure by playing musical notes. Each series of tiles are tuned so that Hot Codlins, the song Grimaldi popularised through his pantomime performances, can be played, as this grave dancer, below, demostrates:
And here’s another tune danced out on the grave:
An Invitation to Dance on the Grave of Joseph Grimaldi actually consists of two coffin-shaped caskets set into the ground: one on Grimaldi’s grave, the other on that of Charles Dibdin, Grimaldi’s mentor.
The installation is in Grimaldi Park, Islington, north London.
And here’s the man himself, performing as Clown Joey in c.1820. (Image from Wikipedia’s entry on Grimaldi).