Last weekend, while visiting friends in D.C., I got a chance to check out the Hirshhorn Museum for the first time. The collection, curation, and exhibitions were all impressive, but perhaps one of the most striking sights was the collection of Lego portraits that were part of the exhibition Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a collection of portraits of political dissidents, prisoners of conscience, activists, and advocates of free speech — all executed with Legos. The portraits each took on their own color scheme with the palette used for each person loosely derived from the flag of their home country. Moreover, the pixelated quality of the image speaks to the digital surveillance that is ubiquitous in today’s society (a theme the artist himself is familiar with given the constant surveillance under which he lived thanks to the Chinese government’s repeated attempts to silence him). Over 1.2 million Legos were used to fabricate the entire work, with each portrait averaging a few thousand pieces.
Ai Weiwei describes his subjects as his heroes and says that his usage of Legos speaks to his desire to work in a language that is fresh and understood easily by all people. I can see Ai Weiwei thinking and seeing his son’s Lego constructions and plotting out his plan. There is definitely a “Wow” factor that he is aiming for with his choice of medium. The effect is quite graphic and riffs off of political posters, Warhol portraits, T-shirt graphics, and, of course, childhood itself.
Bearing a visual similarity to my own work, I have an idea of how these pieces were executed and the copious amounts of time invested into each panel. It was inspiring to see such a broad body of work created with Lego. If you get the chance, go check it out.