Ai Weiwei swamped by Lego donation offers after ban on use for ‘political’ artwork – The Guardian

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has been inundated with Lego brick donation offers after the Danish toy maker refused a request for a bulk order of the plastic toys on political grounds.

On Friday, the artist said Lego refused his studio’s request for an order to create an artwork about free speech to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia for an Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei exhibition in December.

In an Instagram post, the artist said Lego told him “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works” and he later called the decision “an act of censorship and discrimination”.

The refusal prompted an outcry on social media, with many offering their own Lego blocks to complete his installation, some using the hashtag #legosforweiwei.

— Laura (@notmacbeth)
October 24, 2015

I say we all donate our #LEGO to @aiww. Lego ban Ai Weiwei from using their bricks in his art. https://t.co/sT5rfkNReM

— Jacqueline Who (@jacqueline_who)
October 25, 2015

LEGO won’t support @aiww, label his art “political”.James wants to send lego to @aiww to make his brilliant art. pic.twitter.com/mqopJNj5Jd

— Dave Hall (@skwashd)
October 25, 2015

.@LEGO_Group this is about 10% of our #Lego collection. We won’t be buying more. @aiww you’re welcome to borrow it. pic.twitter.com/6mcq8RwXu3


— Wu Tun 吴吞 (@wu_tun)
October 25, 2015

@aiww use mine, more than happy to make it. pic.twitter.com/ouC66A6CwZ

Others used their Lego to make a political statement of their own.

— Sylvie Hagens (@sylviehagens)
October 25, 2015

Dear @LEGO_Group, I read that you want to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. I have found your man! @aiww pic.twitter.com/49vsKTCzCN

The artist took to Instagram and Twitter again on Saturday, including a lengthy statement calling the decision “an act of censorship and discrimination.”

A picture of a toilet filled with the toy blocks and signed “R. Mutt 2015” – a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain” – accompanied the post.

The artist also posted a photo of Lego’s 1961 patent for the “toy building brick” as well as a photo of the patent for “Kiddicraft”, one of Lego’s predecessors, prompting some to speculate the artist plans to make his own bricks.

He included the text of an email sent to the National Gallery of Victoria’s curatorial team on 12 September saying any work using the pieces could not “contain any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements”.

But many social media users have been quick to point to examples of where Lego has been used in a political context, including in official events.

— Michael Oman-Reagan (@OmanReagan)
October 24, 2015

Copenhagen 2008: @LEGO_Group gave bricks for public art project so we could build anything. VERY political. @aiww pic.twitter.com/8PKX9B6V9K

Other users played on the artist’s own work, expressing their defiance by extending their middle fingers at Lego stores, or making the gesture out of Lego bricks. In the past, a series of photographs by the artist featured him giving the middle finger in front of the White House, Eiffel tower and in Tiananmen square.

— Matthew Moore (@MXPMPM)
October 24, 2015

Yup it’s personal @LEGO_Group let @aiww build #legopolitico #LegosForFreedom pic.twitter.com/BR0z1YBH5n

— Ao Lun 敖伦 (@aolun)
October 24, 2015

1/2 用三岁儿子儿童Lego 为@aiww 做了手指 Lego Duplo finger for Ai Weiwei #lego pic.twitter.com/ik908RV3Cz

In an email to the Guardian, Lego confirmed the order had been rejected on political grounds but said the principle “is not new”.

Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbæk said: “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.”

Lego also clarified that Legoland parks were sold to British firm Merlin Entertainments 10 years ago. Ai Weiwei’s post to Instagram on Friday implied Lego had refused in order to protect its commercial interests in the China.