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Why Fans Are Sending Legos to Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei

After the Danish toy company refused to give Ai bricks for his latest portrait series, the internet came to the artist's aid.

by Wendy Syfret
Oct 26 2015, 6:00pm

The artist announced Lego refused to fill his order on Instagram. Image via Instagram


Read: An Interview with the Persecuted Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei loves working with Legos. He has previously used the choking hazard to create portraits of Edward Snowden and Nelson Mandela and build a monument to international political prisoners. Despite, the company has rejected Ai's most recent attempt to use the bricks in his work.

In December, the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia will host a show featuring the work of Ai and Andy Warhol. As part of the exhibition, Ai had planned to make Lego portraits of Australian activists. But when the gallery put in a request to the Danish toy company for the pieces needed, they were told the order had been refused.

Image via Instagram

News of the refusal was made public via Ai Weiwei's Instagram account on Sunday, where he posted a photo of a toilet clogged with blocks. The caption included quotes from the correspondence between the gallery and the famed toy company, which said in a widely released statement that it wouldn't allow its materials to be used in conjunction with "political" art.

Lego regularly works directly with artists like Nathan Sawaya and Sean Kenney, and hasn't previously taken issue with Ai using their product in his work.

Throughout his career Ai Weiwei has been openly critical of the Chinese government's approach to human rights issues, democracy, and their complicity in corruption and coverups. In 2011 he was arrested and detained for 81 days under suspicion of "economic crimes." He was eventually charged with tax evasion, but his arrest and detention was widely seen as a response to his provocative art.

In his Instagram post, Ai Weiwei went on to criticize Lego for being "an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values." He concluded that "Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination."

The NGV was quick to confirm the installation would still be featured in the show despite Lego's refusal. Following the dispute, fans have tweeted the artist offering their own bricks and sharing their support under the hashtag #legosforweiwei. In the wake of the forthcoming tsunami of donated Lego, the artist announced on Instagram he is planning to create a new work from the crowdsourced bricks.

As someone who is probably about to be inundated with more Lego than he could ever use, we hope someone has pointed out the toy's famously good resale value to the artist. Sure this has probably been a bit of a headache to deal with, but when the show's over why not make a little cash for his trouble?

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