Sometimes something comes along that really exceeds all expectations. When my wife suggested we drive to Topeka to see a Lego sculpture exhibit, I was lukewarm, at best, about the idea. Legos? Really? I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Mulvane Art Museum on the Washburn University campus in Topeka, Kansas, is displaying Nathan Sawaya’s surprising sculptures. Surprising because all of Sawaya’s works are made solely from Lego bricks. That’s right. Those annoying little plastic bricks we made little houses and airplanes out of when we were kids. The same bricks that are scattered about the floor of our children’s rooms that we step on constantly. I don’t really know what I was expecting but it wasn’t what I got.
There is no childishness to Sawaya’s sculptures. One thing I really liked was that he didn’t create just one type of artwork. There were several pieces that involved just one easily recognizable, everyday item. Like a life size cello. That’s right. A cello, bow included, made completely out of Lego bricks. And it looks just like a cello. How about a four foot tall chess queen? Or a pawn? They were incredible. There was even an item that was the sun and the nine planets (the placard explained that the artist still considered Pluto a planet) stacked on top of each other in order.
Then there were several portraits. Paintings created with Lego bricks instead paint or charcoal or water colors. Most of these were easily recognizable as portraits but one stood out. At first glance, it looked like an odd abstract – nothing really fit or made sense. A museum host suggested I take a few steps back and tilt my head a certain way. Viola! A woman’s face magically appeared and then I saw nothing else.
There was a theme, though, that was more prevalent than anything else. I would guess maybe half of the pieces dealt with human emotion. These were the items that I most connected with. Most of these pieces were of a man showing some inner fear or emotion. Many were life-sized. Consider a moment the work involved in creating a life-sized man completely out of plastic toy bricks. Now combine that plastic man showing a gut wrenching emotion. Most were fears or emotions we all feel as human beings existing in the real world. Not terror or horror, but raw emotion. Things we feel when we are stressed or at wits end. Many of these grabbed my attention and spoke to me, and I am not a guy who has art talk to me very often.
I came away thoroughly impressed and amazed. If I consider art at all, I want to be able to recognize what I am looking at. I want to be amazed. I’m the kind of person who likes great photos and sports memorabilia – that’s what I usually consider art. Nathan Sawaya’s pieces showed me what a true artist could be. To be creative and original is to be an artist. To do it with children’s toys is to be great. This may be the ultimate example of thinking outside the box. To look at some of the pieces, one might think anyone could create such things. Most of us played with Lego bricks at some time or another and maybe we could have come up with such things. The point is that we didn’t create these pieces – Nathan Sawaya did.
If you live within driving distance of Topeka, I strongly recommend you make the trip. The exhibit is at the Mulvane Art Museum until September 18. Admission is free and the exhibit is not cumbersome for children either. Thirty to forty-five minutes will be all the time you need. The artwork is displayed in three small galleries and the placards are minimal. I won’t write many posts on museums or artwork but I felt this deserved the time and space.
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