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REVIEW: LEGO Art of the Brick

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There was a time when a sculptor had to work in traditional mediums such as bronze and marble, but those days are long gone as we now have inventive artists making works from broken records, paintbrushes and any other material they can get their hands on.

So surely an obvious candidate is the well know creative material LEGO? That’s what this much hyped exhibition is aiming to do through the sculptures by Nathan Sawaya, but can audiences really divorce his creations from childhood memories and see it as more than just a simple gimmick?

This question was in my mind as I listened to the schmaltzy introductory video while surrounded by  families. Very few single adults or childless couples were present despite the marketing suggesting it should appeal to all ages.

The first few rooms of Sawaya’s works focus on familiar artworks as Sawaya recreates masterpieces in LEGO from Rodin’s Thinker and Michelangelo’s David through to the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

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Though all these works are suitably impressive and have used some artistic licence, especially a three dimensional version of Munch’s Scream, they lack creative punch. The other day I saw a life sized LEGO Chewbacca in Toys R Us but I’m sure the creator of this replica doesn’t see herself as an artist despite the effort required to build it.

But just when I thought this may be an unoriginal exhibition, Sawaya’s most creative works transform this show into something special. We leap into the surreal as a head is part of a musical note while another sculpture features a man climbing a stepladder that is emanating from his own arms.

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There are also some deeply personal works as Sawaya admits a kneeling man whose hands have dissolved is a recreation of his own nightmare. In another a red man emerges from inside a lawyer (Sawaya’s former profession), and in an adjacent work this red man strides forward as a wall of grey reaches out to pull him back – a rebuke to those who seek to stifle creativity.

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This is the strongest part of the exhibition but was actually the least populated as most of the visitors stuck to the familiar early stages. After this sojourn into a more personal part of the exhibition there is a return to portraits of Warhol and Hendrix before ending on a London room with a telephone box and The Beatles.

This show obviously recognises how to play to its audience and to draw the crowds – I have no doubt it will do well, even with the high ticket prices. The middle section was my favourite and I hope this exhibition will act as a springboard for Sawaya to create more originally inspired works.

Despite my gripes about some lack of originality, it’s still a brilliant and enjoyable exhibition that I would recommend people attend, even if you don’t have children.

The Art of the Brick is on at Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane until 4 January 2015

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