Brick by brick: Ai Weiwei crowdsources Lego for new political work

Toy maker has refused to supply materials for artist’s installation in Melbourne

Ai Weiwei has made Lego political. The Chinese artist-activist has been inundated with pledges of Lego bricks from supporters after revealing on social media that the Danish manufacturer refused to supply his forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. According to a post on his Instagram account yesterday, 25 October, Ai is now planning to set up Lego collection points in different cities to incorporate the donations into “a new work to defend freedom of speech and ‘political art’.”

Ai, who has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, denounced Lego’s “act of censorship and discrimination” in blocking a bulk order of bricks to produce works designed by the artist’s Beijing studio. They were due to be unveiled at the NGV’s Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei exhibition, which opens on 11 December and will travel next year to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. On Instagram, Ai quoted Lego’s email to the museum’s curatorial team in September: “it must be clear to the public that the Lego Group has not sponsored or endorsed the art work/project.”

Lego declined to comment on Ai’s case directly but said in a statement that while it respects “any individual’s right to free creative expression,” it was company policy to “refrain—on a global level—from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda.”

It is not yet clear if Ai’s crowdsourced Lego works will be ready for the NGV exhibition. The Australian newspaper The Age reports that despite generous offers, the museum is “not seeking donations of Lego, as materials for the installation are still being considered”.

UPDATE: Ai Weiwei’s studio has released more details of his Lego collection points on Instagram. They will be second-hand BMW sedans parked “for one month or a longer period of time, preferably in a location related to arts or culture, indoor or outdoor”. The first will be available in the NGV’s sculpture garden from 29 October, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, with further locations to be announced on Ai’s Instagram and Twitter accounts. Donors should drop their Lego through the open sunroof or post them to the gallery.