Ever since he was a child, Nathan Sawaya has loved to create with Lego bricks. However, as an adult, he abandoned his favorite past time in order to attend law school. Subsequently, he successfully (though not happily) practiced as an attorney. After realizing his heart was truly only at home building with his Lego bricks, Sawaya left the boardroom and turned his love of building into an actual career. Today, Sawaya‘s The Art of the Brick exhibit at Discovery Times Square in New York City winds up exploring the nubbed, outer limits of Lego brick art, re-imagining everything from cultural mainstays like the Sistine Chapel and the Thinker to the darker emotional spaces we all share.
I have to admit: When I visited this exhibit recently, I was expecting a short two-room experience…not seven rooms filled with everything from re-creations of Renaissance paintings to a dinosaur that took up an entire room (and most of Sawaya’s summer). The only thing that could have made my Art of the Brick experience better was if my Lego-loving 7-year-old-son could have been there with me. Since he couldn’t make it, I people-watched other children and enjoyed their expressions as they journeyed through the rooms.
There are a few rules about the exhibit you need to be aware of before going.
First rule: There are no backpacks allowed. This frustrated me because I use my backpack as a purse. Thankfully, Discovery Times Square ultimately allowed me to keep my backpack in my possession, instead of checking it at the desk.
Second rule: Flash photography is not permitted in the exhibit (disclaimer…unless you possess a media pass). Personally, I think they’re doing you a favor—the flash photos I took didn’t come out so great.
Last rule: You are not permitted to touch the sculptures.
So, as long as you keep your hands and your flash to yourself, the exhibit guards will leave you alone.
Each of the seven rooms has something different to spark interest.
One of my favorite rooms in the exhibit was “Through the Darkness.” This installation is also where it got a little spooky for the younger kids—though most seemed to handle it just fine. The lights are dimmed in this area in order to highlight feelings of fear, and conflict, as well as a search for happiness. I found the digital plaques on the wall in this room thought-provoking—definitely worth your time.
Having suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, I found the “Trapped” installation here particularly affecting—there have definitely been times in my life where I’ve felt trapped by anxiety. Sawaya ruminates, “There is always a way out, sometimes we just need help to find the way.” Maybe one day I’ll find my way out, until then, I have this Lego brick art to remind me that I’m not alone.
I also loved the bright colors and interesting quotes that I found in the “Metamorphosis” room. This is where visitors will encounter one of Sawaya’s most famous works (also a possible up-and-coming Lego set), “Yellow.” The information sheets next to each piece of art here often included a quote offering insight into the inspiration for the piece. Some of the quotes really got me thinking, especially this one that went along with the piece “Untitled,”
When children want to be invisible, they simply hold their hands over their eyes, making it so they can’t see the world. Then they reason that the world can’t see them either. Sometimes we keep using this trick, even when we grow up.
I felt as if Sawaya was speaking directly to me at this point because that is what I do when I’m having a panic attack…I close my eyes. One of the reasons why I enjoy wearing my Clone Trooper costume actually is because it covers my eyes from the world. Once, when I passed out at Star Wars Weekends, I started to panic. I remember all the voices around me and the feel of their hands pulling me out of my costume, but don’t remember what any of them looked like because I kept my eyes closed, hoping that it would all just go away and that I would be okay.
Another quote that really hit hard with me coincided with the piece “Inside,”
When we’re born, we’re all given a shell to live in. And one of the joys of living is being able to fill it any way we like.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I have the freedom to fill my shell anyway I like, and through writing and costuming, I’ve done just that. I’m looking forward to seeing how my 7-year-old son “fills his shell” as he gets older.
But there were still more rooms to explore…
Something else I found interesting about Sawaya’s art was how he made use of classic paintings and art and reconstructed them in Lego bricks. The first room in the exhibit actually features art from the Renaissance period, with Lego versions of the Mona Lisa as well as a segment of the Sistine Chapel (protip: look up, or you’ll miss this one). This is one of the rooms children might want to rush through, but I would recommend taking the time to show them each piece of art and the neighboring image of its real-world counter part.
The next room was filled with just as much history as the first, with art from ancient Greece, Africa, and Egypt. The largest sculpture in this room, though, and the one that got the most attention from both adults and children, was a head sculpture from Easter Island, also known as the Moai. This piece took over 75,400 pieces to assemble and the 1:1 scale was impressive. At one point while gazing up at the many tiny bricks used to create curves and smooth lines, it occurred to me: There’s a lot of history to be learned in both these rooms and I can’t think of a more engaging way to expose kids to it than with Lego bricks.
At the time I visited the exhibit, a final room included fan art chosen to be displayed as part of a contest. My favorite piece in this room was the Transformers Memorial Park, created by 35-year-old Craig M.
The last sculpture in the exhibit is actually a hands-on-experience: You’re given the chance to write your name on a Lego brick and place it on a giant sculpture. When the exhibit closes in January 2014, Nathan is going to take all the Lego bricks and refurbish them for a new project and any of the Lego bricks he doesn’t use will be donated to charity.
To get the most out of your Art of the Brick experience, take my advice and don’t rush! My mom and I completed the our exhibit visit in roughly an hour, and looking back, I wish I had walked a little more slowly and paid closer attention to the information about each piece. The information sheets next to each installation reveal more than just the names of the works, they are opportunities to dive deeply into each piece.
Before we left, I asked a few of the children what they thought about what they saw. A 7-year-old boy told me his favorite piece was the Peace sign because it had pink Lego bricks in it (score!). Another boy chimed in to say that he really enjoyed “Yellow” (see first image), but it took him a few minutes to give me that answer because he enjoyed everything about the exhibit.
When I got home from the exhibit I realized two things. One, it’s possible to do soul searching in rooms full of Lego bricks. Two, Lego bricks really do have infinite possibilities when it comes to what you can create with them. When I got home from my trip I saw my son’s Lego bricks in a different light and after I showed my son some of the pictures from my trip to the exhibit, I think he saw them differently too.
If you’re a Lego-loving family, this Times Square Discovery Art of the Brick exhibit is a must-see! You have until January 14th, 2014 to visit The Art of the Brick before Nathan moves on to his next adventure. So if you’re in the area, make sure to stop by! For more information, including admission fees and operating hours, visit Discovery Times Square’s website.
Disclaimer: GeekMom was provided with free admission for the use of this post.