Brick Master

ID_IC_MEIS_LEGOS_AP_001 Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

Sean Kenney makes life-size sculptures of endangered animals out of Lego bricks. Adam Reed Tucker reconstructs famous buildings throughout the world in Lego form. Beth Weis specializes in Lego as home décor. Some people grew up building with Legos, and then never stopped. Lego invaded their minds and now they view the world through a Lego prism. These people have made Lego into a full-time profession. So much so that Lego now has an officially recognized category of what they call “Certified Professionals.” There are nine of these Certified Professionals at present. They are good at making things with Lego.

Certified Professional Nathan Sawaya got his start at the Legoland theme park in Southern California. Now, he is taking aim at the art world proper. His show, “The Art of the Brick,” is currently on tour at museums and galleries throughout the country. I went to see his Lego art at the Agora Gallery in Chelsea, New York.

The show takes on big issues like Despair and Grief. One sculpture, “Red,” shows a male figure from the waist up, emerging from a pile of red Lego bricks into full form. The figure reaches upward, desperate fingers clutching for the sky. Another, “My Boy,” is a blue Lego man on his knees holding the collapsed form of what is presumably the dead or injured (Lego) boy in his arms. It’s a Lego tragedy!

The implied formal question in Sawaya’s sculptures is about the limitations and possibilities of a Lego brick as an artistic material. Looking at the work of Nathan Sawaya in relation to his professional Lego colleagues one thing becomes obvious. Sawaya has achieved a qualitative leap. The other pros, talented as they may be, are essentially doing the same thing that children do with Lego bricks, though at a higher level of proficiency. Instead of making a one-room house with 50 bricks, they make the Sears Tower with 50,000.

Sawaya has managed to separate Lego from that kind of literalism. It’s sort of analogous to the moment when painting finally freed itself from the limitations of direct representation and got wild with abstraction and other nifty new tricks. Sawaya’s work is still representational, for the most part, but it isn’t Lego-like anymore; his constructions aren’t simply the toy-version of some real-world thing.

The sculptures are, however, extremely stupid. I don’t really mean that as an insult.