Arts art exhibition review

‘The Art of the Brick’ transports us into a whole new art world of LEGO

Imagination is the only limitation

The Art of the Brick
Created by Nathan Sawaya

343 Newbury St
Boston, MA 02115

Sunday–Thursday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Friday–Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
On display until April 23, 2023

Art is brought to life through LEGO bricks in Nathan Sawaya’s The Art of the Brick. Setting the tone for the rest of the exhibition is Yellow, an original life-size sculpture of a person tearing their chest apart to reveal hundreds of LEGOs falling out. According to Sawaya, Yellow symbolizes “the metamorphosis he has been on his journeys.” It is almost like the passion for LEGO resides in Sawaya’s heart and flows out when he opens himself up to this world.

The rest of the exhibition consists of artworks that are either original sculptures or replicas of famous paintings in the form of LEGO bricks. Some are made with over 1,600 LEGOs, with one of the largest artworks constructed from 112,300 LEGOs! This showcases the versatility and scale at which LEGOs were used by Sawaya to create this fascinating exhibition. While each and every artwork is a sight to behold, some standouts are the LEGO recreations of The Starry Night (Vincent van Gogh), Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci), San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk (Claude Monet), and The Arnolfini Portrait (Jan van Eyck). All of them are unique not only in the kind of art they recreate but also in terms of their construction techniques.

The Starry Night has expressive contours and bright colors that reflect van Gogh’s intensity and imagination. Sawaya’s brick replica combines different tones of grays and blues to emote the intensity of the original with multiple layers of plate added to specific portions of the painting that offer more depth to the LEGO rendering. With the Mona Lisa, Sawaya decided to highly pixelate the LEGO rendition using much larger LEGO bricks. The resulting LEGO Mona Lisa bears striking similarities to the original, and Sawaya is absolutely right in saying that a blurred out image of the painting’s brick version could easily be mistaken for a blurred photo of the original!

Another interesting technique Sawaya employs is the intermixing of different colored LEGOs in his rendition of San Giorgio Maggiore At Dusk, which is created using the smallest of LEGOs. The original focuses on the reflection of the bell tower and the cathedral on an island’s coast in the surrounding water. While Sawaya’s technique makes the rendition unrecognizable when viewed up close, it soon comes into view when viewed from a distance. The brightly colored LEGOs flawlessly portray the splendor of dusk of the original.

One of the most challenging aspects of turning a 2D painting into a 3D sculpture is being imaginative about the background in the painting, hidden by the presence of subjects. Arnolfini Portrait shows a man and a woman standing against a background in an oil painting. Sawaya brought just the two people outside of 2D, rendering them as 3D sculptures in the LEGO rendition of Arnolfini Portrait, which meant  he had to formulate what would be in the background since this is not evident from the original. This demands a creative extension from the original while giving additional layers of depth and meaning.

Sawaya also portrays monumental emotions and life choices through his original LEGO artworks. Just like Yellow, Gray portrays Sawaya’s journey from a lawyer to a LEGO artist. This sculpture shows a human lurking behind a canvas trying to tear it open, symbolic of Sawaya’s inner artist tearing open  conventional constraints and taking the leap to pursue his passion for LEGO. One of the largest LEGO artworks is Decisions, which portrays the two most important and contrasting emotional consequences of decisions — hope and despair. This shows a set of LEGO people floating mid-air and multiple hands trying to reach out from the ground to say, “Reach out those hands and you will find hope, rising above ready to lift you up and reassure you that everything will be okay.”

Sawaya rightfully proclaims that “Art is not optional.” In today’s world, where most people are stressed out, art becomes a much needed creative outlet. Sawaya believes that one need not have to choose between engineering and art and that engineering skills could in fact be reflected in the art one makes, in his case, with LEGOs. We see that a lot of thought about the geometry and stability of a construction goes into building a LEGO artwork. The final part of The Art of the Brick exhibition offers a chance for your inner artist to create using LEGOs. There are “Open Play” stations with thousands of LEGOs that you can use to construct your own art, where your imagination is the only limitation.

Overall, I would highly recommend visiting The Art of the Brick LEGO art exhibition in Boston. It takes about an hour to explore the exhibition, which offers an unique perspective into LEGO and how it can bring art to life. We get to interact with some of the LEGO artworks and are even encouraged to have a conversation with spoken or unspoken words with these artworks, which enables us to form a connection with the art and in some sense, with the artist, too. While the standard tickets are $28 and student tickets are $26, you can visit in groups of ten or more and get discounted tickets at $22 per person. Trust me when I say it is worth every penny of the price.