Review: The Art of the Brick, Great Northern Warehouse, Manchester
It’s LEGO-tastic at Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse. In an exhibition by artist Nathan Sawaya, a series of wonderfully immersive works spans five chapters, opening audiences up to more than 50 life-size pieces of LEGO art.
Having quit his job as an attorney to follow his (and let’s face it, everyone’s) dream of playing with LEGO, Sawaya decided to put a personal stamp on the childhood toy, rebuilding the world with expansive sculptures and replicas that welcome lovers of LEGO into the art world. With the aim of highlighting the importance of art in developing self-awareness, combating depression and building self-esteem, this thoughtful exhibition reflects the endless themes and possibilities that LEGO provides.
Parading a colourful collection of skulls in response to the LEGO Group’s first cease and desist email to his unauthorised artwork, the Skulls collection underscores Sawaya’s unique take on the toy, offering bright yellow, red, green and blue death-themed pieces to voice his initial frustrations with the company.
Since being endorsed as a certified LEGO professional, his works continue to splinter into unexpected territories. Alongside personal pieces such as Yellow, which shows a man tearing himself apart and spilling his LEGO kernels onto the ground, Sawaya has taken inspiration for his Red Mask self-image from the Hall of African Peoples in the American Museum of National History, displayed together with the human forms of a circle, triangle and square.
With a personal challenge to sculpt the simple building blocks into spectacular figures, Sawaya’s work is infused with the hyper-realist photographs of Dean West. The collaboration is shown in the In Pieces series that unveils Sawaya’s works in real-life scenarios, showing a woman wearing his LEGO dress creation while standing outside a ticket booth as well as dropping his cloud sculptures into the sky. Alongside videos explaining how his art is produced, the Red Dress creation stands centre-stage in the room, suspending its scattered LEGO fabric in the air.
LEGO often sells miniature replicas of famous landmarks and characters but the discovery of Sawaya’s recreations of the Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s David and the Mona Lisa are unequal spectacles. These are found in the largest room of the exhibition which is dedicated to recreations, paying homage to significant moments in art history. They include tributes to Girl with a Pearl Earring, Starry Night, and a portrait of Andy Warhol; the fine art inspirations ensure that younger audiences are given a stunning history lesson while appreciating the intricate contemporary creations. Impressively, the exhibit even offers LEGO pool pits for children to curate their own pieces at the end of the show.
Leaving audiences with the awe-inspiring Dinosaur which appears to be plucked straight out of the National History Museum, Sawaya’s three-month construction engulfs the room as his final farewell. Despite having a loyal, built-in LEGO audience, The Art of the Brick is an exciting and unexpected show that captures themes of anxiety, love and rejuvenation to ensure that Sawaya’s personal passion brings a smile to adults and children everywhere.
Images provided by The Art of the Brick
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