Nathan Sawaya, the artist behind the Old Truman Brewery’s wildly popular The Art of the Brick exhibition, has made some pretty cool stuff out of Lego over the years. He is also – it must be said – a bit of a dick, but don’t let that stop you from going to see his work before it’s all packed up in April.
Maybe Sawaya’s story just doesn’t sit very well with the hardened cynicism of the British pysche. Apparently he quit his well-paying job as a lawyer to spend his days dicking around with Lego (or Legos, as our transatlantic friends insist on calling them). Sounds to me like he was laid off, spent some time dicking around with toys and then got really fucking lucky, but maybe that’s my inner (British) bitch talking.
But, when you strip away the nauseating monologues about “elevat(ing) this simple plaything to a place it has never been before” and “building (your) dreams one brick at a time”, the sculptures are actually very cool. There are over 100 of them too, totaling upwards of a million Lego bricks. (Does he buy all his own materials, I wondered, or does Lego sponsor him somehow? Shit’s expensive.) I’m not sure if I’d count them as art, in the same way that I don’t count YouTube videos of people peeling potatoes with a toilet brush as art. Cool and interesting, yes, but most of the pieces didn’t really stir any emotion in me other than…well, ‘that’s cool and interesting’.
And, to be fair, you get quite a lot of bang for your buck. Before you can get to the Lego
s, though, you must first sit through a stomach-knottingly smug opening video – in which Sawaya declares his ambition “to make the best sculptures in the world” beside his Lego rendition of Michelangelo’s David without a trace of irony. You actually get to see it in the first room, and, yes, it is very impressive. But it just ain’t as good as the original, you know?
I did very much like his version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream though.
Next there are rooms of miscellaneous objects – including giant chess pieces, a man-sized pencil and a ‘cello – a number of cool self-portrait pieces, and an enormous dinosaur, which was surrounded by goggle-eyed children.
My favourite, though, was a new section called ‘In Pieces’, which juxtaposed Lego objects in real-world environments.
I actually really love that photograph; I’d have bought it as a print if they’d sold it in the gift shop.
How about this one?
I also loved this floating dress. I’d pay good money to see real life models stomping down a catwalk in Lego dresses. (Nathan, if you’re reading this…you know what to do.)
The exhibition winds up – of course – in the gift shop, where children can grind their helpless doters down into spending up to 50% more than the Amazon list price on Lego play sets. (£300!? They must be mad. I don’t think I could ever love anybody that much.) No sign of that bloody umbrella print though.
We visited The Art of the Brick on a Saturday, which was quite busy and required advance tickets. You can buy these online (£16.50 at a weekend, £14.50 during the week). If you’re looking for something fast, cheap and delicious nearby, try Biegels’ 24-hour salt beef deli (the queue looks mental but goes down quickly), or Pizza Union near Spitalfields.
The Art of Brick, Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Street (off Brick Lane), E1 6QR.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.