The Art of the Brick exhibition, (appropriately taking place in Brick Lane), proves that Lego is not just for kids. Andrey Kravchenko reviews.
According to Andrew Sielen’s research, the average price of a Lego kit reached almost $40 by 2012. The price asked for The Art of the Brick is £14.50 or $22 – pretty high for an exhibition, where already-built kits are displayed. If the exhibition is aimed at children, they might prefer to buy and construct one themselves. If it’s for an adult, £14.50 is almost six pints of decent beer, which makes a choice for an average Briton easy to make. The idea of using Lego for something else besides playing with it is not original either– famous bricks have been widely used in flash mobs, like erecting Lego pillars in the centers of European cities, or in in science competitions. So can The Art of the Brick offer anything besides being a tiny version of Legoland? Yes – it can.
The original idea belongs to Nathan Sawaya, a New York-based artist, who is world-famous for his works in contemporary art. Sawaya started the project in 2002 and since then has been constantly developing his ideas: by 2015 his The Art of the Brick features more than a million Lego bricks used for over hundred sculptures. Sawaya’s patience should be given credit: spending twelve years on playing Lego bricks isn’t something every adult can bear. Sawaya, moreover, even seems to have enjoyed it: “I like using Lego’’ he says, “I enjoy seeing people’s reaction to artwork created from something with which they are familiar.”
The exhibition is divided into different sections, with the Human Expressions part being its informal axis: a yellow man ripping his chest apart and revealing yellow bricks inside is a metaphorical self-portrait of the artist himself. It’s “about my transition opening up to the world,” says Sawaya. It seems like the yellow man showing off his soul in front of an audience is inviting it to his brick world full of beautiful Lego reproductions of famous art pieces. There are a few original ideas as well: for instance, the last room is occupied by In Pieces – latest collaboration between Sawaya and Australian photographer Dean West. The official website calls it “highly stylized photographic representations of contemporary life that incorporate exquisitely detailed LEGO objects.” You would never use them in real-life situations, though; a red dress, for instance, which looks fantastic on a photo, will never fit in real life.
Not to bore children with art they might not be familiar with, a section with dinosaurs is squeezed in the middle of the exhibition, and that slightly confuses those who expect the same ‘serious art’ motive from the beginning until the very end. A 6-foot velociraptor is impressive, but similar to a pork chop, quietly lying on a shelf in a vegetarian deli: tasty, but out of line. The excuse, however, is apparent: Lego is originally for children. With adults it’s more complicated – they are not supposed to be interested in Lego. However, who are adults if not grown kids? And in the last room, where the souvenirs are sold, is left for them two large containers full of various Lego bricks, tempting grown-ups to come and join their children playing. And that is Sawaya’s main goal: uniting different generations.
It’s a beautiful gesture, which seems like a logical ending to the Lego exhibition. It’s good to see Sawaya hasn’t concluded it with a Lego monument of himself. He deserved one, though.
The Art of the Brick is running until April 12th at the Old Truman Brewery, Shoreditch.