Review of The Art of The Brick Exhibit At Perot Museum

Photo Credit: Maeghen Cook

Childlike Reverence and Cultural Qualm: A glimpse at the LEGO® World of Nathan Sawaya

By: Forrest Cook | Photos: Maeghen Cook

From February 23 through August 18, Perot Museum in downtown Dallas is playing host to an exciting and highly popular exhibit, The Art of The Brick. It is the work of artist, Nathan Sawaya who’s fettered himself to stardom with his sculptures made entirely from one of the world’s most beloved toys, and indeed one of its best, LEGO®s.

A bit of background: Sawaya, a former New York attorney, for years dealt with corporate clients, acquisitions and mergers and the like, before re-immersing himself in childhood fascinations to imagine and build the world of myriad sculptures on display. He is the first person credited with bringing LEGO bricks into the realm of artistic society.

I’d like to make a preliminary statement by regarding the staff of the Perot which was beyond courteous and helpful during my brief foray around the sub-floor of the museum where the special exhibits are held – down the musical staircase (which unfortunately was busted at the time of my visit) conveying a titillating sense of arrival with the exhibit’s reception immediately to the right. Perhaps, best to make use of the public facilities first, directly crosswise on the left.

Upon entering the exhibit hall, viewers are met with a brief documentary video explaining the nature of Sawaya’s deviation from self-sustaining pragmatism, and social incursion into more Jungian modes of consciousness in search of balance through, perhaps, impractical means applied by which the support sustained from community and family around him – empathetic to Sawaya’s seeming existential dread – could not have been accomplished.

The Art of The Brick is broken down into five sections: Paint by Bricks, The Sculpture Garden, Metamorphosis, The Human Condition, and Through the Darkness, and ends in The Science of the Brick where adults and children alike are encouraged to exercise the often repressed creative and innovative corners of our own brains through “building challenges, games, and open play spaces” – to set loose the child in all of us, once more. This follows a truly imaginative collection.

The first two rooms of the exhibit (Paint by Bricks and The Sculpture Garden) are both dedicated to art history. In these the artist utilizes his own visionary resourcefulness to recreate famous paintings and sculptures of our past. Included in the collection are re-renderings of Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa, Starry Night by Van Gogh, Michelangelo’s David, and one of the Moai heads of Easter Island featuring more than 75,ooo bricks. Every piece is represented with a small plaquette detailing the original history of the storied artwork alongside a short explanation of how the artist chose best to exemplify its appeal. Both of these [rooms] were found to be notably compelling and suggestive of gracious altruism with the upmost respect held for the pieces being modeled after in LEGO bricks. Obviously, some liberties are taken, but I was impressed upon by the good-natured intent in doing so, where Sawaya’s absorptive understanding of the stylistic aspects and psychological impression on each piece manifest itself in each transmogrified application. One detail which elicits a smile is that the proportions of Sawaya’s Sphinx model, although not entirely accurate – a LEGO figure placed in juxtaposition to – would relate to roughly the same size-discrepancy as an actual person standing beside the actual Sphinx.

The next three rooms exhibit a transition from classical admiration to sculptures whose inspiration for conception and masterful brick placement spring straight from the artist’s own stream of consciousness. It is then fitting that they too convey a departure from commonly held societal norms ubiquitous in Sawaya’s original compositions which is expressive of an internal metamorphosis into the artist who has become revered and his creations cherished the world over.

In the rooms of Metamorphosis, The Human Condition, and Through the Darkness expressed is a proclivity for representing the human form, but beyond that, a deeper darkness is on display reflective of Sawaya’s emotional turmoil which casts an uncomfortable shadow over these child’s toys inspiring personal reflection as well social introspection. Sawaya brings his demons to light. How unavoidable it seems to mold our egos to adapt in western society where masculine concepts as reason and determination outshine the creative intuitive forces of internal femininity. How reluctant we seem to veer from predictability and take that first step into fascination and the devastation wrought on the artists’ own psyche in his longing for “normalcy”. However, the synopsis isn’t just a bleak one. Imbued in The Art of the Brick are signaling of Sawaya’s support system, and themes of family and friendship which he relied heavily on through personal shortcomings and difficult times. I take this to be a mode of our societal awakening to the struggles of depression and a further reverence to the mechanical workings of the creators and innovators among us – concepts I perceive to be highly tangible in this exhibit.

This is one I definitely recommend for art lovers and general spectators alike. The originality and care in replication are awe-inspiring, and I find that The Art of the Brick shines a pivotal light on our current placement in the modern world. Children will have a blast. LEGO-lovers will absolutely get a kick, and the average museum wanderer like myself may find themselves happily appeased by the placating quality of The Art of the Brick. With a moderate price tag of $21-$30 (which includes general admission) for non-members, I’d say this is a must see. Especially if you’ve been planning a visit to the Perot in the near future, The Art of the Brick should definitely be the extra push you need.

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