Art & Culture

Lego donations flood in after artist’s order blocked


Despite the hit song in its movie last year, everything is not awesome for toy-making giant, Lego, which faces a backlash for refusing to share its trademark plastic bricks.

Contemporary artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, received a flurry of social media support after criticizing the Lego Group for declining to sell or supply him with a large quantity of bricks, needed for his upcoming exhibition on freedom of expression and political dissidents.

Ai Weiwei
Alex B. Huckle | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The "Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei" exhibition is set to take place in Melbourne, Australia in December.

Ai took to Instagram to vent his annoyance with Lego.

"Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination," he said over the weekend on the photograph-sharing social media platform.

Lego have since released a statement denying that it "censors, prohibits or bans the creative use" of its bricks, but states that it does "refrain—on a global level—from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda."

LEGO may run short of bricks before Christmas

Lego-owning fans of Ai's work have vied to offer their toy bricks to the artist, which Ai says he will accept.

He linked Lego's so-called censorship to the announcement of a new Legoland to be built in Shanghai. This month, Merlin Entertainments formally announced it would open a new Legoland in the Chinese city.




Ai is posting images of the crowd-sourced Lego supplies and says that collection points will be announced soon. Due to the "overwhelming public response", Ai says he will create a new work to "defend freedom of speech and 'political art,'" with details of the project to be announced soon.


This isn't the first time Ai or other artists have used Lego bricks to spark conversation. In 2014, Ai used the bricks to make several mosaic portraits of political protesters to put on display at the former site of Alcatraz Prison off the coast of San Francisco.

Visitors look at Ai Weiwei's 'Trace' installation at the @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz on September 24, 2014 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In addition, Polish artist, Zbigniew Libera, created a faux concentration camp made out of Lego bricks in the 1990s. He was heavily criticized by the media, and the Lego Group asked Libera to remove the creation from public view, after the group confirmed they were unaware of the piece's subject matter, according to the LA Times.

Lego enthusiast, James Clinch, said that Lego was "not really censoring" Ai.

"What they are doing is refusing to sell him bricks in a certain way," he told CNBC on Monday.

"There are many ways to buy LEGO from LEGO. One way for artists to obtain a large quantity or certain bricks either free or heavily subsidized is through a bulk order scheme LEGO offers certain groups/people. However, LEGO puts conditions on that scheme, because if they are footing, some or all of the bill, they don't really want anything that may detract from their values. Their values include commercial considerations, like any business would."

He added: "There is nothing they can do, or indeed would do to prevent (Ai from) sourcing his own bricks to do it, or even buying them off LEGO in the normal way. They just won't pay or subsidize him to do it. So he can't say afterwards LEGO helped him."

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her on Twitter @AlexGibbsy.