LEGO Exhibit: The Art of the Brick

What do you think of when you hear the name LEGO? Here are some word associations that come to my mind: pain (have you ever stepped on one?), expensive (those prices!), scattered (do you find them in random places in your house like I do?), fun (haven’t we all played with them at some point in our lives?), and cool (I recently saw a construction of the Roman Colosseum at our local LEGO store and WOW).

The Little Bee is all about LEGOs these days. She’ll do anything to earn those little bricks—even clean her room, which is an extremely big deal. And I’m completely and totally in support of her new passion. Bye-bye cheap plastic surprise blind bag toys! I’ll be happy to see you again NEVER!

When my parents told me about the LEGO exhibit at the California Science Center and suggested we go for a little field trip together, I was all in. It wasn’t for me personally of course, but like so many things, it would be a joy to see her face light up as she experienced cool LEGO stuff. Wow, was I off-base. I’m pretty sure the exhibit was a bigger deal for us than it was for her. The exhibit name was spot on: The Art of the Brick. The pieces were truly ART created with those little stacking bricks. And they were all made by one genius: Nathan Sawaya.

When you first enter the exhibit, you’ll find masterpieces like Starry Night and the Mona Lisa recreated with LEGOs. They were absolutely beautiful. In some cases, I thought they were far more beautiful than the original work. My daughter? She was racing through (like kids do), whereas I paused at every single piece. You couldn’t help but inspect each one. My mom was an art major, so one would expect her to examine each piece. But me? I’ve never really been into the visual arts. I don’t think I’ve paused in front of a piece of art in my life.

The next room followed the same theme, but the creations replicated sculptures rather than paintings. I loved that they listed how many bricks were used in each piece, and most were in the thousands. It was fun to guess even though I guessed incorrectly (big time) on every single one. Side note, there were over a million bricks in the exhibit.

Although the experience was already spectacular at that point, I felt the impact of the first two rooms paled in comparison to the next three.

The third room featured Sawaya’s original art. Each piece had meaning, as you’d expect from an art exhibit. But would you expect that at a LEGO exhibit? Because I certainly didn’t. This piece of the man with his hands scattered in pieces represented the artist’s worst nightmare. See? Extremely powerful, but not quite targeted to kids, right? My little snapshot captures it extremely poorly, but the original piece evoked so much emotion.

Other pieces made me laugh. I wish I remembered exactly what the description next to this yellow sculpture said, but it was something about it being one of his most popular pieces with both kids and adults. It speaks to adults, and kids like that there are guts spilling out. Makes sense! (My daughter wasn’t one of those kids though.)

The next room brought another artist into the equation. Sawaya’s original LEGO creations were placed into photographs by Dean West. See that red dress? It was worn by a model and captured into that photograph. The room didn’t seem to tell a threaded story, but the individual pieces were incredibly eye-catching. Such a fantastic idea executed perfectly.

But it was the last room that moved me completely—and it’s because of my dad.

The last room followed the same concept as the previous room but featured endangered animals in the photos. What initially struck me was that I had no idea many of the featured animals were endangered. I knew about the Orca and the Lowland Gorilla, but others like the Chilean Flamingo? I had no idea.

Admittedly, it gave me pause and made me think, but what I’d seen in that room didn’t quite make me feel. It was terribly sad of course, but we’ve heard bits and pieces about endangered species forever. It’s understandable that it would go in one ear and out the other. I’m not saying that’s okay, but it happens. There are just so many things to consider and worry about at any given time, right? It’s inevitable that some things wouldn’t have the same power. But that power was about to hit…

I was busy taking pictures of my daughter in front of the LEGO polar bears, a bit anxious to leave because she and her friend were hungry and fidgety and totally ready to go. But as I was about to walk away, my dad stopped me in front of the photograph on the wall—the last piece shown prior to exiting. (I wish I’d taken better photos, but I didn’t know at the time that I’d be posting them.)

He asked me what I saw. I said I saw polar bears in the arctic. “Really, that’s all?” he asked. I studied it a little harder and then told him that it’s a gorgeous piece of art, but yes, that’s all I saw.

He said, “I see that they belong on that big mass toward the back of the photo, and instead they’re trapped on that little one. How are they going to get there? It’s not how the landscape should be.”

I can’t believe I didn’t see it. How could I not see the meaning behind the piece of art when the environmental concern is my big WHY behind Big Bee, Little Bee creations. Reusable goods…to create less waste…to decrease our environmental impact.

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