Clowns are for kids—or so declared mid-century entrepreneurs as they turned them into toys and emblazoned them on dollhouse walls. But clowning has always been a serious business. From royal courts to movie sets, clowns have weaponized humor to puncture the status quo, commandeering our affection, loyalty, and sometimes even, our adulation.
Children, however, often burst into tears not laughter, when confronted by the frozen expression on a clown’s painted face. These ice portraits reveal the complex characters they sense beneath the masks.