The Art of the Brick

This weekend we went to go see the Art of the Brick exhibit at the Springfield Quad Museums.

This is the work of Nathan Sawaya, a full-time artist who makes sculptures in the medium of Lego. You’ve seen his stuff before:

I have to be honest with you: I’m not a huge fan. Sawaya definitely has some mad Lego skillz, there’s no denying that, but as an artist, I just don’t find his stuff very interesting. It’s all so literal: a giant pencil writing “fun”, a guy trying to emerge from a wall while hands pull him back (called “Grasp“), a green human figure lifting its own head up off its neck). It’s just all kind of there.

The artwork seems driven by the fact that it’s made of Lego, but even the use of Lego isn’t particularly interesting. While Sawaya occasionally does something that actually acknowledges the medium he’s working in, most of the pieces could be made of anything; there’s no real purpose to it being made of Lego other than going, “Ooh, that’s made of Lego!” (For me, making such large-scale items in Lego actually diminishes the impact because you’re reducing the bricks themselves to the relative size and purpose of, say, pixels. Nobody’s fascinated by the appearance on your computer screen of The Starry Night because it’s actually made out of tiny bits of liquid crystal or whatever.)

There are bits in the exhibit I thought were pretty neat.

This piece is called “Crowd” and it’s probably my favorite piece there. I think the play on dimensions and color is pretty nifty, and it’s done in a way that the Lego element is less of a novelty and more integral to the piece.

This one’s called “The Future”, and it appealed to me at first because, unlike all the other things, it was so abstract and non-representational. Then some kids in the room pointed out that when you approach it from the side:

the image collapses into the word “TOMORROW”. Which, when you think about it, is kind of the future! For some reason, I hear the Sad Trombone when I see that. I don’t know why it suddenly doesn’t work for me, but it doesn’t.

I don’t mean to sounds like I’m a big hater. Nathan Sawaya does stuff with Lego I can’t even imagine doing. His work is incredibly popular, so it obviously appeals to a lot of people if not me in particular. And it’s not as though I didn’t enjoy looking at a big ol’ anatomically-correct Lego heart. It’s just that for me, I’ve seen things on Flickr done by J. Random Legobuilder that showed more wit, humanity, and technique in them with only a fraction of the pieces. I know that Lego can be an incredibly expressive medium…I just don’t really get that with this exhibit.

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5 Responses to The Art of the Brick

  1. David Thiel says:

    You’re not wrong about the sad trombone. Sheesh.

    I agree with your assessment. My take on it is that the reaction of AFoLs to this guy is a bit like the ways comics fans adore Kevin Smith: they so like the “legitimacy” this gives their interest that they overlook that much of what he’s doing with it isn’t that interesting.

    What really gets me excited (and more than a little envious) about some of the AFoL designs is the way someone takes a piece and uses it in a way completely beyond its original intended function.

  2. Mrs. Mancer says:

    Yeah, I found the *engineering* a little bit interesting (how to figure out centers of gravity etc.?) but as art it was totally “meh.”

  3. Mike Doyle says:

    Oh man, totally agree here. Can’t say much more than you have here. The work seems predicable and trite with Lego being the gimmick. It wouldn’t be so bad, but for the heavy handed labeling of ‘art’ and exhibition time the work gets. Such attention and referencing as ‘art’ seems really off the mark.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Have you made a lego sculpture… I find it fascinating that people can critique art that they have never tried to replicate… I have never met the man, but I think he is brilliant. Get over yourselves. Funny that a man that builds with legos can be more grown up than his critiques.

  5. Dave says:

    Rebecca, you really don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.