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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lego Art

A logo of Legos, not to be confused with the Lego logo.
Yesterday, in writing on logo art, it occurred to me I might also do something on Lego art. Today, as I started researching this piece I was rather stunned to see how many artists had adopted the ubiquitous little plastic "thingies" as their, own and how far they had taken them as a medium of creative self-expression. Artists such as Nathan Sawaya, Bryan Korte, Mike Doyle, Sean Kenny, Andrew Lipson, and Douglas Bagnall, among many others, have made them their own. However, other than Ole and his son Godtfred Christianson, the Danish inventors of the Lego brick, the biggest name today in Lego art is that of Nathan Sawaya, a former lawyer turned artist from New York. His pieces range in size from a tiny tree (two bricks) to works with upwards to a half a million.
Sawaya's museum pieces beg to be touched.

Sawaya with his scale model
of the Iwo Jima monument.
Sawaya has a one-man show, "Art of the Brick" currently running at the Discovery Channel Museum in Times Square, New York. Of course, Sawaya is not alone in producing mega-art from Legos. Moreover, the people at Lego themselves compete with their best single customer (Sawaya has 2.5 million bricks in stock). The Lego design team in May of 2013 unveiled a Star Wars X-Wing fighter comprised of 5,335,200 Lego bricks. It's a staggering 44 feet wide, 43 feet in length, and stands some 11 feet off the ground. However, at 46,000 pounds, it's unlikely to ever get off the ground. Displayed first at an assembly location on Long Island, the piece is destined for the company's Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad, California. Unlike Sawaya's pieces, which have no other component except Lego bricks and his own secret glue, the Lego X-Wing is built over a steel infrastructure designed to withstand the stress of thousands of kids climbing all over it. It's a playground toy, not a museum piece.
Photo by Kaishu
London's Trafalgar Square from Legoland Windsor,
the company's British garden of plastic delights.
The Lego brick had it's birth in Denmark, roughly coinciding the advent of consumer plastics around 1947, though before that similar children's building bricks had been made of cellulose acetate. Today they're made of ABS polymer (you don't want to know what ABS stands for). The tiny toy was first patented in 1958. Since then the company has grown along with the imaginative explosion of various themed sets, everything from Star Wars to Disney movies and whole architectural landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and London's Trafalgar Square. Moreover the company was founded upon two critical basics, sturdy, kid-proof quality (tests show it would take a stack of 375,000 bricks nearly 12,000 feet tall to collapse the bottom brick) and the impulse to create, whether among children or adults. 

Lindsay Lego Lohan
Lego art, from all Internet appearances, is something of a blooming cottage industry with artists offering their services in creating Lego portraits, Lego sculptures, Lego painting reproductions, Lego furniture, as well as scale models of everything from pups to people to porpoises. Some artists even boast life-size replicas of classic cars, boats, zebras, dinosaurs, and lighthouses. Lego, however, has long since ceased to be a cottage industry, with seven different Legolands and factories in four different countries creating a total of some 400-billion plastic toy bricks to tolerances as tight as two micrometers. It's estimated that over the years, the company has produced enough bricks for everyone on earth to have a set of 82.

Andrew Lipson's Lego version of M.C. Escher's famous print, Relativity.


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