November 11, 2015

Ai Weiwei P.S. - The Lego Fiasco

I had no sooner visited the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy in London (see my blog of November 5) when he was back in the headlines for yet another controversy.  This one did not involved the Chinese government directly, but the Danish family-owned corporation that manufactures the hugely popular Lego building blocks.

Ai Weiwei in front of "Tree", 2015
A site-specific work made of reassembled pieces
of dead wood from southern China and
installed in the courtyard of The Royal Academy, London

According to various news sources, Ai Weiwei had placed an order for a large quantity of Lego bricks for an art installation to be created at a gallery in Australia.  Because of Ai Weiwei's reputation as a dissident artist, and the proposed artwork's theme of freedom of speech, The Lego Group refused to fill the order on the grounds that they "cannot approve the use of Legos for political works".  Not to be too cynical, but it seems rather ironic that this private company, the world's biggest toymaker, does not seem to have a problem with the recently proposed Legoland amusement park to be built in Shanghai, China.  But I digress.

In what is becoming almost typical of Ai Weiwei, he has managed to turn this "act of censorship and discrimination" into a publicity coup for him and a nightmare for Lego.  London's Royal Academy was the first to respond and they did so with style.  Since October 30th, a second-hand BMW sedan has been parked in the museum's courtyard with the sunroof left open as a collection point for Lego blocks.  The response has been amazing and other museums have followed suit with similar model BMW sedans parked at The Brooklyn Museum, New York, the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin and The National Gallery of Victoria, Australia to name a few.

Children and adults alike seems to love tossing the colorful blocks into the cars and it won't be long until Ai Weiwei will have collected plenty of Legos for this, and probably many other, projects without having to spend a nickel for their purchase.  While Lego has the right to sell or not sell to whomever they please, it seems that this was a miscalculation of the highest order.

I leave you with another marvelous Weiwei-ism that seems appropriate under the circumstances:
"The art always wins.  Anything can happen to me but the art will stay",  The Economist, May 2012.

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