Over the weekend, beloved Chinese artist Ai Weiwei published a flurry of Instagram posts slamming The Lego Group for refusing to sell him a bulk order for a new exhibit in Australia. The public reaction was overwhelming and supportive of the artist, with many fans offering Weiwei their own (often sizable) Lego collections to use instead. Yesterday, Weiwei announced that he'd take them up on their offers with soon-to-be-announced Lego collection points, and that their bricks would be used in an artwork designed "to defend freedom of speech and 'political art.'"
Weiwei has been planning the Lego artwork since June for the upcoming Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei show to open in December 2015 show at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. In an Instagram post, Weiwei details the full statement National Gallery of Victoria received when trying to place the order, including their apparent embargo on, "any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements." A proposal for a Lego set celebrating female supreme court justices was similarly condemned by the company in March, despite popular support.
The art world has been slowly adopting Lego-as-medium over the last few years, in part thanks to Weiwei's work. Late last year, his show @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz turned Alcatraz into an art gallery with Lego portraits of international dissidents. Danish and Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson staged an interactive architecture exhibit on the High Line this summer which involved breaking down and rebuilding the New York City skyline with Lego bricks. Artist Mike Doyle used Legos to protest the war in Iraq. Ivan Lardschneider references the bricks in his emotionally-fraught sculpture I Shoot Myself, while Nathan Sawada uses them to sculpt a distorted vision of humanity, and Jan Vormann fills in crumbling architecture with the colorful toys. So, what's Lego's reason for the sudden blockage?
"In September Lego refused Ai Weiwei Studio's request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as 'they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works,'" reads Weiwei's original Instagram post. He then points out the October 21st announcement of an upcoming Lego theme park in Shanghai, which The Guardian speculates may have sparked Weiwei's social media outreach.
After his Instagram and Twitter follwers began offering their own Legos for the project with the hashtag #LegosForWeiwei, the artist accepted, announcing that he'll establish collection sites across the world. This morning he posted a picture of a red car captioned, "The first Lego container." According to Instagram, this is just the first phase of projects inspired by the events, and Weiwei isn't known for going easy on institutions he holds accountable.
See more of Ai Weiwei's work on his website, and in our previous coverage below.