December 8, 2023

Almost a century after Claude Monet painted them, Nymphaeaor Water lilies, still impresses as a vision of a seemingly small subject realized on a grand scale. Installed in a dedicated room at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, the paintings have a particularly strong impact on their viewers – an impact certainly not lost on Ai Weiwei, who recently recreated another set Water lilies (a triptych, the original of which resides in the Museum of Modern Art) made entirely of Lego bricks. With name Water lilies #1this 50-foot-long plastic tribute will be displayed at London’s Design Museum as part of Ai Weiwei: Makes sensewhich opens on April 7th and runs until July 30th.

“Ai used 650,000 Lego bricks in 22 colors in his version of the famous Impressionist triptych,” writes ARTnews’ Karen K. Ho. In addition to simply replicating, brick by pixel, the brush strokes with which Monet replicated the lily pond in his house at Giverny, Weiwei also included “the dark area on the right. The design museum said it represents the underground dugout in Xinjiang province where Ai and his father Ai Qing lived in forced exile in the 1960s. On one level, this is an unexpected addition; on another, it’s exactly the touch one would expect from China’s most famous living dissident artist.

Image by Ela Bialkowska/OKNO Studio

Experienced in the medium of Lego, Ai also used everyone’s favorite building blocks “to create portraits of political prisoners. In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery exhibited 176 of these Lego works of art.” Make sense will also contain a new Lego piece called Untitled (Lego Incident)which as GuardianCaroline Davies writes: “It includes thousands of Lego bricks donated by members of the public after Lego briefly refused to sell its products to him in 2014.” It seems that Lego had reservations about being associated with such a politically charged project. The statement he made Water lilies #1 it may be less direct, but—enriched by its grand scale, its cross-cultural inspiration, and the materials that have long been an almost universal part of childhood—it will be no less powerful.

Related Content:

Monet’s Water lilies: How World War I inspired Monet to paint his final masterpieces and create the ‘world’s first art installation’

How to paint water lilies like Monet in 14 minutes

Ai Weiwei creates silk-screened scarves by hand and draws according to the Chinese paper-cutting tradition

Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei: A Short Documentary

Hokusai’s iconic print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, recreated with 50,000 LEGO bricks

The Vincent van Gogh “Starry Night” LEGO set is now available: Created in collaboration with MoMA

based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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