MASS MoCA Is Collecting Legos for Chinese Artist and Activist Ai Weiwei
In December, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne is scheduled to open an exhibition titled “Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei,” which will explore parallels, intersections, and differences in the practices of the two artists.
But when the museum’s curatorial team reached out to Lego on behalf of Ai, who planned to use its iconic bricks for a new installation to be featured in the exhibition, the global toy giant refused to fill the request for a bulk order.
“We regret to inform you that it is against our corporate policy to indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities outside the Lego licensing program,” the company said, according to a post on Ai’s Instagram. “The motive(s) cannot contain any political, religious, racist, obscene, or defaming statements. It must be clear to the public that the Lego Group has not sponsored or endorsed the art work/project.”
Ai went on to add his own statement: “Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”
In a subsequent Instagram, the artist posted an image of a toilet full of Lego bricks, with a cheeky caption that read, “Everything is awesome.”
The social media posts triggered a myriad of responses, with supporters offering to donate their own Legos to the artist.
Since then, Ai has tapped more than a dozen museums and cultural institutions around the world, including MASS MoCA, to serve as a “Lego Collection Point.”
“Weiwei designated organizations to station a BMW car, provided by the artist, near the entrance, with its windows cracked, to allow donors to fill the cars with legos, thus appropriating the ultimate corporate icon as an irony-rich, ultra-luxurious Lego piggy bank,” says a statement from the museum in North Adams.
A BMW has been stationed outside of MASS MoCA’s front entrance since Monday. Eventually, the collected Legos will be sent to the National Gallery of Victoria, where Ai will use them to create new works.
“I think this has served a great purpose,” he told the New York Times. “I could never have predicted this event, that for days, people would flood in, like a river, to support criticism of big companies who do this kind of censorship and to support freedom of speech.”
The artist has used Legos for an installation before, using thousands of bricks to create mosaic portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs—including Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden—that were then set up on the floor of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.
Ai himself, a vocal critic of the Chinese government, has been imprisoned before. In 2011, the artist was arrested as he was trying to fly from Beijing to Hong Kong, interrogated, and detained for 81 days. Afterward, he was fined for tax evasion and had his passport confiscated. It was returned to him only a few months ago.
In addition to on-site donations, MASS MoCA is also collecting Legos by mail at MASS MoCA, c/o J. Lussier, Attn: Ai Weiwei Lego Project, 1040MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA, 01247.