Legos as Art: A look at Nathan Sawaya's "The Art of the Brick"

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , | Posted on Sunday, April 18, 2010

It had been quite some time since I had visited the Everhart museum in Scranton, but today I ventured there with a few friends of mine to check out the new exhibit The Art of the Brick.

The Art of the Brick showcases sculptor Nathan Sawaya's unique ability to turn the Lego brick, something most of us identify with as one of the top ten things you don't want to step on, into interesting pieces of art.

When I was first informed of the display, I was immediately excited. As a child, countless hours were spent building Lego sets by the instructions, admiring them for a bit and then destroying them only to create something from my own imagination. Cars with wings, aircrafts that doubled as houses, houses that doubled as cars, and everything else from robots to spaceships. However, not once did I even grasp the full potential of what those little bricks could become.

In The Art of the Brick, Sawaya constructs sculptures of the surreal, the whimsical, childish and historical. Upon stepping into the exhibit, I was greeted by the largest sculpture on display. A T-Rex fossil replica which stood approximately six feet tall and about twenty feet long. It was almost humorous how I smiled and thought back to my childhood days. Every one of my friends would have been extremely envious of me if I had that many Legos let alone if I had created a dinosaur out of them.

While the T-Rex was incredibly impressive, I was more interested in his portraits. While not as intense or intricate as the T-Rex or other sculptures, the portraits seemed to bring the artistic element of the display to light and leave the novelty feeling behind. The sculptures had me in a constant state of boyhood fascination while the portraits made me stop and appreciate the actual idea behind Sawaya's work. However, a few of the sculptures, such as "Yellow" which eerily reminded me of Cronenberg's film Videodrome, had the same effect on me as his portraits.

Extremely detailed and lifelike pieces are not what you will find in Sawaya's work, but the scope of his imagination and ability to translate these ideas using a childhood toy seems to overshadow the physical limitations of the medium.

I can't help but to have a feeling of novelty when viewing his work, though. Part of this is due to the childhood connection to the medium. As I said, for most of the exhibit I was simply awash with a feeling of boyhood excitement. While walking among the other spectators, many of whom were young children and their parents, most of the artistic ambiance was lost. Children hustled around exclaiming their excitement about the pieces rather loudly while parents kept vigilante eyes on them making sure they didn't try to play with the sculptures. 

You become enthralled with a feeling of simple joy and memory and forget about the fact that you are in an art gallery viewing artistic pieces of work. This could be exactly what Sawaya is trying to convey. To transcend from childhood imagination into artistic expression while keeping the observer in a state of borderline giddiness. Even if this is the case, however, the novelty of it wears quickly leaving one to contemplate the actual artistic value of Sawaya's work.

Is Sawaya's work completely novelty and worthless? Of course not. He explores the use of a non-conventional medium and does so rather impressively. Imagination and creativity can run rampant but, as much as Sawaya claims that there are no limits to the possibilities, limitations are inherent. The sheer size of his current work would be almost impossible if not for the use of adhesive to keep it all together.

Overall, if you take Sawaya's work for what it is, it is, at the very least, interesting and enjoyable. Artistic? Yes. Novelty? Yes. But, would you really go into an exhibit of Lego sculptures expecting anything completely groundbreaking and artistically mind-blowing? Sawaya is not DaVinci. He is what we all wish we could have been when we started throwing together Lego blocks out of our plastic bin of hundreds of pieces. Sawaya just has a much larger bin with millions of pieces and plenty of time to play with them.

If you enjoyed Legos as a child or simply want to see something out of the ordinary, then I suggest checking out The Art of the Brick. It's an especially child-friendly exhibit and may help to get your children interested in the art world by associating art with toys and fun. However, if you happen to miss the exhibit or it doesn't make a stop in your area, I wouldn't be all too concerned. I do suggest at least looking at Sawaya's website, though.

The exhibit is on display at the Everhart museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania until May 2nd. Cost of admission for adults is $5 and this includes all other exhibits and collections within the museum. 

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