Fans donate Lego bricks for Ai Weiwei art

BERLIN • Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said on Monday his plan to create a Lego artwork could go ahead as donations of the bricks poured in from fans after the Danish company refused his bulk order on political grounds.

The maker of the children's toy caused a social media uproar when Ai said it had refused to supply him directly as it "cannot approve the use of Legos for political works".

Ai is China's most prominent contemporary artist. He helped design the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics and his work has been exhibited worldwide, but he has also run afoul of communist authorities.

He used the bricks to create portraits of well-known prisoners of conscience such as Nelson Mandela for an exhibition at Alcatraz prison in the United States last year, and intended to create a Lego artwork for a show in Melbourne, Australia, later this year.

After his appeal for bricks online, numerous fans have offered to give him their Lego blocks.

"The Internet is a place that is sort of like a modern-day church," he said. "You go to church and complain to the priest about your suffering and everyone in the community can share in it and perhaps find a solution," said the artist at a press conference in Berlin arranged on his guest professorship at the Berlin's University of the Arts.

To a tweet from a fan who wrote: "I am taking a Lego brick to @aiww's London exhibition and leaving it there", Ai - whose exhibition is on at London's Royal Academy of Arts - replied on Twitter: "Every one (is) precious".

A post on his Instagram account on Monday also said: "Ai Weiwei has now decided to make a new work to defend freedom of speech and 'political art'. Ai Weiwei Studio will announce the project description and Lego collection points in different cities."

His Instagram account also shows a picture of Lego bricks in a toilet bowl with the caption "Everything is awesome", the theme song of the 2014 blockbuster Lego movie.

One supporter posting on Twitter told the manufacturer: "Your execs need to go watch the @TheLEGOMovie and think about what they've done." Another said: "I'm picturing a Lego sculpture of a giant Lego character shooting itself in the foot."

Ai, 58, also pointed out that Britain's Merlin Entertainments, which owns and operates Legoland theme parks, announced plans for a facility in Shanghai last week during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Britain.

Lego's parent company Kirkbi owns a 30 per cent stake in Merlin.

Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek told Agence France- Presse that the company refrains "on a global level from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda".

But he added: "We respect any individual's right to free creative expression and we do not censor, prohibit or ban creative use of Lego bricks."

Ai has been targeted by the Chinese authorities for his advocacy of democracy and human rights as well as other criticisms of the government.

It is not the first time that Lego has rejected a proposal on the grounds of political context, reports say.

A Lego set of the four female members of the US Supreme Court was rejected by the Lego Ideas project, which allows members of the public to suggest new products, according to US radio network NPR. The company's Acceptable Project Content says projects related to "politics and political symbols, campaigns or movements" will not be accepted because they "do not fit our brand values".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Fans donate Lego bricks for Ai Weiwei art'. Subscribe