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Have you seen our penguin?

Happier days - photograph of the intact penguinThe LSE penguin, a 60lb sculpture which stood unobtrusively for years on the LSE campus, has suddenly found itself the source of international media attention following its mysterious disappearance.

Staff and students at LSE awoke to an empty plinth last week and an outpouring of bemusement, hilarity - even grief. Flowers and poems have been left at the site, vigils have been organised, and tins of sardines opened to lure the lost penguin back. Sadly, all that remains are the base of the penguin's statue - and two flippers.

The knee high sculpture by artist Yolanda vanderGaast was insured and will be replaced, School Secretary Adrian Hall said in a reassuring statement: 'We will do our best to mend this little dent in the staff and student experience,' he added.

Unhappy feet - photograph of the pedastel where the penguin once stoodBut while the penguin may be no more in a corporal sense, it has a new virtual life with its own site and video on Facebook and coverage as far afield as Canada - home of philanthropist and LSE alumnus Louis Odette who donated the artwork to LSE.

Blog sites have been quick to follow its fate. 'There is something about penguins that makes these animals innately newsworthy,' commented Charlie Beckett, director of LSE's media think-tank Polis, on his blog. 'And, of course, they are the subject of great literature. Perhaps the best book about post-Soviet Russia (or at least the funniest) was Andrey Kurkov's Death and the Penguin.'

An LSE spokesman said, 'We would very much welcome the return of this much-loved landmark. Our security team are progressing in their search for the penguin and are operating on the assumption that the theft was an alcohol-related incident. The penguin is reasonably big and heavy and it is to be hoped that it cannot stay hidden for much longer.'

Toronto artist vanderGaast took the news philosophically. When informed by the Canwest News Service that the penguin had gone, her first response was 'Again?'. A similar sculpture of a penguin also disappeared from a sculpture park in Windsor, Ont, eight years ago. 'I guess it's flattering,' she told the News Service. 'People like it so much they want to take it home.'

Small consolation for LSE students. 'I'm pretty gutted, to be honest,' one undergraduate told the student newspaper. 'I love that penguin...I really do hope we get it back.'

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the penguin is invited to ring security or the press office.


17 March 2009