The Art of the Brick Wows at Faneuil Hall

Posted November 17, 2014 by Tony McMillen in Theater & Arts
The Art of Brick

If you ask me, the best part about Lego is that you don’t have to build what’s on the box. Unlike other toys or games, Lego doesn’t make you follow any rules or obey any instructions (Except for maybe the warning that says not to eat them…that’s actually pretty helpful. Besides, they don’t taste that good anyways…trust me.) With these colorful and tiny interlocking bricks you can build virtually whatever you want, however you want. As a kid nothing else can really compare to the feeling of infinite possibility that Lego offers. If you can imagine it you can build it. Well, as long as you have enough bricks. Nathan Sawaya, the artist behind The Art of the Brick exhibit that’s currently being shown here in Boston now through January 11th , is somebody who remembers that feeling. He also has plenty of bricks.

The Art of the Brick, located on the second floor of Quincy Market at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, features sculptures and large-scale mosaics built entirely out of everyday Lego bricks. One of the bigger sculptures on display contains 80,000 Legos. This is a 20-foot long Tyrannosaurs Rex skeleton comprised entirely out of Lego pieces, and it will make your inner 7-year-old happier than the last time you saw Jurassic Park. But that’s just one of the types of Lego sculptures that Sawaya produces. There’s plenty of variety to be found in the exhibit.

Lego Art Faneuil Hall

Many masterful pieces along the exhibit. Photo Credit: Tony McMillen

After a brief video introduction from Sawaya himself, the exhibit begins with his building block renditions of famous paintings. Classics like The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Hokusai or Edward Munch’s The Scream are transformed into 3-D, almost 8-bit video game looking works of modern art. Other pieces like Grant Wood’s American Gothic have been fully transmogrified from their 2-D origins into life-size sculpture. The following room continues this trend of bigger and bolder with masterful Lego renditions of famous sculptures like Michelangelo’s David or the Egyptian Nefertiti Bust. Regardless of the scale, what makes all of the pieces work so beautifully is that they blend the familiar, even the nostalgic, with the unexpected. The sophistication of high art is presented with the playfulness of children’s toys, like hearing Beethoven’s 5th on a kazoo. The effect is exceedingly charming and at times surprisingly affecting as you navigate your way through the hall from piece to piece.

But the biggest surprise and the highlight for me as an audience member was the original creations by Sawaya that round out the final part of the exhibit.

“My favorite subject is the human form. A lot of my work suggests a figure in transition. It represents the metamorphoses I am experiencing in my own life. My pieces grow out of my fears and accomplishments…”

Swimming Legos

woman’s figure swimming half submerged in a sea of Legos. Photo Credit: Tony McMillen

This quote from the artist really helps set up some of the surreal and evocative figure work you can expect from his original conceptual art. There are sculptures of humans tearing off their own plastic brick skin only to reveal startling, nearly gruesome Lego skulls underneath. Instead of being softened by their execution in construction block toys, the more nightmarish sculptures like this skinless face are instead made even more unsettling by this distinctly childhood connotation.

Other originals, like a woman’s figure swimming half submerged in a sea of Legos, go another route entirely. They create dreamlike, soothing imagery that celebrates the human form, and even more importantly, the human imagination. Which after all, along with the Lego itself, is what The Art of the Brick is really built upon.