Yup, that’s right. An exhibit about Legos is absolutely stunning.
“The Art of the Brick,” running through Sept. 11 at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, is an extraordinary exhibition of classic and original artwork rendered via the iconic toy. From Greek and Egyptian sculpture to familiar paintings from all ages, each piece is an intricate feast for the eyes.
To be able to study Lego replications of art that I’ve seen in real life was surprisingly moving. But those bits of hard plastic — which every parent who’s tried to creep across a sleeping kid’s bedroom floor lives in fear of — are still playthings, because there’s also joy in the artist’s original work.
So who is this guy? The Lego “sculptor” behind all of this made quite the 180 along his career path. Nathan Sawaya used to be a corporate lawyer in New York City until he realized he needed a creative outlet. Eventually, he earned a commission and now instead of piecing together legal briefs, he pieces together creations that have been seen around the world, won multiple awards and earned much recognition.
Sawaya chose Legos because he likes the distinct lines and sharp corners of the bricks and because they are iconic. Legos are a medium that’s accessible and relatable. “I like creating art,” he says. “I like the way it makes me feel.”
In turn, he says, art is vital to him and he believes it’s vital to society. He wants to inspire the artist in everyone, no matter what the person chooses to create. “Art,” he says, “is not optional.”
And yes, for those who are wondering, the bricks are glued together. Imagine trying to reassemble these each time they’re moved. Not to mention the recent incident in China, where an artist spent three days and nights building a nearly 6-foot, $20,000 figure of a Disney character only to have it accidentally knocked over and destroyed an hour after it went on exhibit.
Sometimes Sawaya messes up, however, and has to chisel the pieces apart — not an easy or pretty task. He can spend weeks or even months on a sculpture, but he approaches each with joy.
“The worst day as an artist is better than the best day as a lawyer,” he says.
And in a studio packed with 5 million Legos, that worst day can’t be anything but good.
The exhibit itself is divided into several rooms. It begins with a space dedicated to his 2-D Lego “paintings” and “drawings.” Sawaya has painstakingly re-created Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Leonardo DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Michangelo’s “Vitruvian Man” and more.
Study a piece up close and it breaks apart into meaningless bumps of colors. But step back out and pay attention to how your eyes knit those pieces into art.
The exhibit transitions into 3-D sculptures with a replica of “American Gothic” that features the couple as sculptures and the barn behind them as a “painting.” There’s Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” a sculpted version of Gustav Klimt’s painting of “The Kiss,” James McNeill Whistler’s “Mother” (proper title: “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.” Who knew?) and Jan Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait.”
Those are followed by a room of human- and life-size version of Greek, Egyptian and other sculptures. Here you can behold a ginormous Moai figure from Easter Island (75,450 pieces), The Discobolus of Myron, the Venus of Willendorf (one of my favorites), Michaelangelo’s “David” (well, most of him anyway) and much more.
After this is a room dedicated to whimsy and dread. Sawaya’s original creations range from the sweet homage to love called “Everlasting” (see photo above), to the terrifying “Trapped,” which depicts a person’s upper body trying to escape from a box, and “Grasp,” in which a human-sized figure is covered in disembodied hands pulling it back. And there’s so much more, but I won’t spoil it all.
The final room features “In Pieces,” a brilliant multimedia collaboration between Sawaya and photographer Dean West. The walls of the rectangular room are lined with photographs that have been digitally altered to include objects rendered in Legos. 3-D versions of those same objects are featured on a platform down the center of the room. For example, one photo features a man carrying a red umbrella. Closer inspection reveals that it is made of Legos. That physical red umbrella sits across from its mate. In another photo, Legos form clouds. The clouds are also are replicated in physical form.
Before reaching the end of the show (and finding yourself in the obligatory gift shop), there’s an original piece created specifically for the Seattle show, something the artist does for each city where his art tours. For Seattle, it was an installation of salmon titled “Be Different.” All of the fish are sockeye … except one, who is made of every color in the rainbow and hangs above the others.
Sawaya, who founded The Art Revolution Foundation “for the purpose of making art a priority in our schools and our homes,” according to his website, accomplished his goal of hoping his work inspired its audience. After my family was back home, both of my children immediately headed into their Lego-strewn bedrooms and began creating.
Features editor Jessi Loerch contributed to this article.
“The Art of the Brick”
Through Sept. 11
Pacific Science Center (at the Seattle Center)
Monday-Friday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Adults, $28.75; seniors (65+), $26.75; youth (6-15), $23.75; child (3-5), $20.75; members (all ages), $7.
Pricing includes general exhibit admission, which is required for entry.
Learn more about the artist at www.brickartist.com.