Offers of Lego donations have been pouring in for controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, after the toy company refused to sell him a bulk order on the basis of Weiwei’s political artwork.
In June of 2015, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei — whose controversial pieces include a raincoat with a condom attached to it, representing the AIDS crisis in New York in the 1980s, and an installation entitled “S.C.A.R.E.D.”, a collection of six iron boxes that recreate “in harrowing detail the claustrophobic prison cell in which Ai was illegally incarcerated for 81 days,” according to the New York Daily News — was planning an exhibition entitled “Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei” for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, the concept of which was freedom of speech. Since the installation required large quantities of Lego bricks, museum curators contacted the company to put in a bulk order. On September 12, Lego responded by rejecting Weiwei’s order on the grounds that the company cannot be seen to support “political, religious, racist, obscene, or defaming statements,” according to an Instagram post shared on Ai’s account this past weekend.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Monday, Weiwei — who has previously used Lego for other art installations, including one called “Trace,” which depicted portraits of 176 political activists such as Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden — said he was incredibly surprised by Lego’s rejection of his order, reports CBC.
“I was flabbergasted as it was a perfectly respectable order.”
The current exhibit would have been a “room-scale art installation” that depicted Australian political activists and free speech advocates.
Since going public with Lego’s refusal to sell Weiwei a bulk order of their bricks, offers of Lego donations from around the world have been pouring in through Twitter and Instagram, and the hashtag #LegosForWeiwei was born. Fans of the artist have begun posting pictures of their own Lego collections to social media sites, offering them Weiwei in support of his art.
At the press conference in Berlin on Monday — which was set up to announce his guest professorship Berlin’s University of the Arts — Weiwei discussed the outpouring of support he’d received over the Lego controversy, as well as the power of social media.
“The internet is a place that is sort of like a modern day church. 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. So some clever people took up the issue and had the idea to fundraise for the Lego”
Some fans have already begun dropping off their Lego donations at one of Weiwei’s currently running exhibitions in London, England, while others have taken to leaving their bricks on a car parked outside Ai’s studio in Beijing.
In response to the overwhelming support he’s received, Ai wrote a follow-up post on his Instagram account Monday, stating that he will now be working on a new piece in defence of freedom of speech and political art.
According to the Guardian, Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbæk confirmed in an email that the toy company refused Weiwei’s bulk order, and reiterated their stance on political art.
“Any individual person can naturally purchase or get access to Lego bricks in other ways to create their Lego projects if they desire to do so, but as a company, we choose to refrain from engaging in these activities – through for example bulk purchase. In cases where we receive requests for donations or support for projects – such as the possibility of purchasing Lego bricks in large quantities – where we are made aware that there is a political context, we therefore kindly decline support.”
Ai Weiwei said that he will gladly accept donations of Lego, and that he is currently in the process of setting up collection spots in cities around the world for fans to drop off their Lego donations.
[Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images]