The Human Condition in Lego

Finding Passion in Legos – The Art of the Brick Exhibit

Posted on Posted in Art, Philadelphia, Travel
The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya
The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya

If only sitting at our desk was our dream job, chances are it’s not but you don’t know what to do or are afraid of the massive risk to chase your passion.  One New York city corporate lawyer did just that, he left the boardroom and found his passion in the small colorful bricks of Legos.

If you heard the blurb – New York City lawyer leaves his corporate job to follow his passion for Legos, you might think it sounded a bit crazy, that he was crazy leaving a high powered, high paying, prestigious job.  But that’s exactly what Nathan Sawaya did and the result of his passion is astounding.  The Art of the Brick is a traveling art exhibit which highlights the artist’s work with Legos.  Yes, the toy you played as a child, those square bricks that you tried to be creative with but generally built just squares and shapes. Legos have really evolved over the years as evident by the plethora of interesting kits now sold as well as the success of the wildly entertaining Lego Movie. Looking at the various art pieces shown in the exhibit, you have to hope that the artist gets a discount on his purchases of Legos.



The Art of the Brick yellow man
One of my favorite of the exhibit – tearing yourself apart to rebuild anew

“Art makes better humans, art is necessary in understanding the world and art makes people happy.  Undeniably, art is not optional” Nathan Sawaya

Lego humor waiting for the Art of the Brick
A bit of lego humor as we wait along with the green lego man

My younger niece, Gillian, agreed to go to The Franklin Institute with me to see the Art of the Brick exhibit.  She loves Legos and from her creations, one can hope she has a future in engineering.  For now, we just explored the show and I let her have my camera to take photos while I used my IPhone.  Since the exhibit is not interactive, I needed to give her nine year old mind something to focus on.  This exhibit was more fun for the adults in my opinion for a host of reasons.  One, it’s damn hard to build with Legos,  so can appreciate the skill and artistry.  Two, it’s visually stunning and we are able to process it a bit better. Three, adults are more knowledgeable about the art being recreated – my niece know of the Easter Island Moai because of my visit two years ago and also the Night at the Museum movie (dum dum want gum gum!) but she didn’t know The Kiss, The Scream or American Gothic or the various statues that served as the inspiration.

Mona Lisa in Legos The Art of the Brick
Up close not much but step back to appreciate the genius in the bricks
American Gothic painting in legos
American Gothic come to life in Legos at The Art of the Brick

One of my favorite pieces, in the Human Condition gallery, is the one my niece looked at and said “they’re fat”.  Kids!  The piece is entitled “Everlasting” and uses 10,584 red bricks.  It is meant to convey that “love lives forever.  It outlives youth and a flat stomach and a full head of hair.  And that’s what makes it beautiful”.  I was inspired by this and it made me smile. I definitely bought the book to read more about what inspired the artist to create his various pieces in the different themes.

Everlasting Love Lego The Art of the Brick
Everlasting Love in Lego Bricks – a touching story of love

The rooms had themes and for the most part they were evident – the first room has the masterpieces of art, Paint by Brick, – the Mona Lisa, the Kiss, the Scream, Girl with a Pearl Earring etc.

The Art of the Brick classic masterpieces
Just a few art masterpieces in lego

As we walked through, the next room had classic statues in the Sculpture Garden – the Moai of Easter Island (over 70k grey bricks), David, Winged Victory, the Sphinx and Degas’ Ballerina.

The Art of the Brick statues
Classic statues in lego
Easter Island Moai statue in lego
Have 70,000 grey legos then you can build a massive Moai too

Pop culture featured in the next gallery, the Artists’ Studio with a Peace sign, Love heart, the World Globe and a giant Pencil.

The Art of the Brick paintings
Modern paintings come to life in lego bricks

Metamorphosis was creatively interesting as a pool of blue bricks showcased a swimmer in the water while water droplets featured on the wall.

Swimming in Lego The Art of the Brick
Swimming in Metamorphosis – the lighting mimics water
The Art of the Brick water droplets
Water droplets coming off the wall

The Human Condition gallery contained the “Everlasting” couple as well as people in transition.  The artist himself had been in transition from corporate lawyer to artist.

Nathan Sawaya quote
If only the schools felt the same way and offered full art programs to kids
The Human Condition in Lego
The Human Condition in legos
The Art of the Brick Human Condition
Building a self identity who will you choose to be

“When I was a lawyer I quickly came to realize I was more comfortable sitting on the floor creating sculptures than I was sitting in a boardroom negotiating contracts. My own personal conflicts and fears, coupled with a deep desire for overall happiness, paved the way to becoming a full-time working artist” Nathan Sawaya

After the happy, colorful galleries, we entered Through the Darkness and it was surprising how the bricks can convey a whole different experience.  The bricks seemed to be peeling back a layer of skin, of the masks we wear every day to get to our souls to expose our insides to transform the outside.  It was quite powerful for me.  The last piece that is used in the ads is the yellow man and getting inside his soul was thought provoking.

The Art of the Brick red mask
Masks – we all wear them – do you know your true self under it all?
The Art of the Brick Through the Darkness
Through the Darkness – what’s under your skin, what masks do you you hide under?
The Art of the Brick Through the darkness
What’s holding you back in life – it may not be chains it might be other people
The Art of the Brick yellow man
One of my favorite of the exhibit – tearing yourself apart to rebuild anew

Thinking this was the last piece of the show we encountered a dinosaur before an imaginative multimedia collaboration between the artist, Nathan Sawaya and photographer, Dean West. Looking at the photos, you need to find the Lego parts but it was a bit easier to see the sculpture first then go look for it in the photo.  This was a fun room for both my niece and I. It was also a bit of a game to see if we could find the Legos in the picture.

Dean West red dress lego lady
Dean West photo – the lady is wearing a red lego dress! It’s crazy to see in person
Collaboration of Lego art with photos by Dean West - the red dress was my favorite
Collaboration of Lego art with photos by Dean West – the red dress was my favorite

The exhibit ended with a Liberty Bell (quite apt for the location) before showing us what his outdoor installation in New York City had produced.  His tree hugging Lego people now had people’s names and other words on the bricks, an interactive art installation.  Pretty cool.

Liberty Bell Lego
The classic Liberty Bell in Legos
The Art of the Brick Tree Huggers
Tree huggers put out in NYC and now each brick has a name or saying on it – interactive art

The whole exhibit was pretty cool and a testament to taking a risk to follow your dreams.   For the artist “Dreams are built one brick at a time”. For me, I’m still searching for my bricks, what about you?

Nathan Sawaya quote
Being creative definitely is a brain tease for many


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