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Ai Weiwei Collects Lego Blocks by the Beemer-Load at Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum's Vice Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management Sharon Matt Atkins pours LEGOs into the car (courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Brooklyn Museum’s Vice Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management Sharon Matt Atkins pours Legos into the car designated to collect them for Ai Weiwei (image courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

The Brooklyn Museum today became the first in the US to host a public collection point for Legos to send to Ai Weiwei, joining a number of major museums around the world in showing solidarity for the Chinese dissident artist. This morning, a white BMW was parked in front of the museum’s main entrance and, just a few hours later, it was already filled with colorful bricks, courtesy of staff members who were the first to pour in boxes of the plastic toys through the car’s sunroof. The car will remain there through November 29, as the museum, which exhibited his traveling retrospective last year, stated.

Ai launched an official campaign on Tuesday to crowdsource Legos to use in a new work, criticizing Lego for what he described as “an act of censorship and discrimination.” As he announced this week on Instagram, the toy manufacturing giant refused to sell him a bulk order of its bricks to create new artworks related to freedom of speech. The works Ai has planned, which will be part of a forthcoming exhibition at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), are meant to re-imagine his “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995) and form mosaic portraits of 20 Australian activists, according to the Times. 

Brooklyn Museum staff lined up this morning, the first to donate Legos to Ai Weiwei (click to enlarge)
Brooklyn Museum staff lined up this morning, the first to donate Legos to Ai Weiwei (image via @brooklynmuseum/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

In response to the request, a Lego spokesperson told the New York Times, “Generally speaking, as a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences to children, we refrain — on a global level — from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda…This principle is not new — nor isolated to specific regions or projects.”

People began offering to donate their own childhood toys, so Ai decided to establish various collection points in different cities (snail mail is also an option). The response has since been swift, with museums including the NGV, London’s Royal Academy, Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg, and Málaga’s Contemporary Art Center each setting up donation stations within days. Sharon Matt Atkins, Brooklyn Museum’s Vice Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management, told Hyperallergic that Ai and his studio had reached out to the institution at the start of the week, but Ai announced the museum’s participation only yesterday. The Brooklyn Museum also tweeted, “We’re excited to team up with #AiWeiwei once again, seizing this moment to defend artistic freedom around the world!”

The BMW, which serves as the receptacle for toys at every site, is perhaps the most curious part of this project. Ai specifically chose the company’s 5 Series Sedan model as the collection container, as he laid out in a set of instructions posted three days ago:

2. Ai Weiwei would like to rent, borrow or buy second-hand a BMW 5S Series sedan, of which the color can vary, as a Lego container. The vehicle must have clear windows and a sunroof that can be fixed open with a 5 cm opening so that people can insert Legos. It should be free of any advertising or other decoration.

3. The car should be parked and locked in a central location of the city that can be easily accessed by the public. The vehicle should remain in the parking space for one month or a longer period of time, preferably in a location related to arts or culture, indoor or outdoor.

While Atkins confirmed that BMW does not play an official role in the crowdsourcing efforts, Ai remains quiet on his reasons for choosing these particular vehicles. One can rationalize the reasons that using a car in general makes sense: it’s essentially a moving vault, offering protection and mobility when the time comes for the bricks to travel, in addition to providing visibility to gauge the project’s progress. But why Ai outlined such specific rules is unclear, with the artist only offering a cryptic post: a screenshot of BMW’s Art Cars exhibition, which he uploaded yesterday and captioned, “Since 1975 BMW has had an Art Cars series.”

Is Ai teasing us prior to an announcement that he will join the likes of Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol in designing a model for the car manufacturing giant? Is he intending to build BMWs out of the bricks he will receive? If so, will they be Star Wars themed? So many questions! What’s certain, however, is that BMW is receiving a lot of exposure: Ai himself has been posting plenty of photographs of the car to his social media accounts, and even if he does cut out the vehicle’s insignia, most of his posts mention the German brand anyway.

Whatever the reason, BMWs, old and new, will continue to pop up around the world and gradually fill up with Legos. Amsterdam is the next city to welcome the crowdfunding project, as Ai announced this morning, with the photography museum Foam designated the city’s collection point.

Brooklyn Museum staff lined up this morning, the first to donate Legos to Ai Weiwei (photo via @thebrookelynway/Instagram)
Brooklyn Museum staff lined up this morning, the first to donate Legos to Ai Weiwei (image via @thebrookelynway/Instagram)
(photo via @alissaspix/Instagram)
The Brooklyn Museum’s BMW already scattered with plenty of Legos on the inaugural day of collecting bricks for Ai Weiwei (image via @alissaspix/Instagram)
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