Paige Galette hasn’t played with Lego in years, but the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei still does. And the 25-year-old Toronto activist wanted to make sure Ai had enough bricks for a Lego artwork to be shown in Australia.
She and a friend from Ottawa, Dominique Boisvenue, who also goes by her artist name Mique Michelle, dropped hundreds of blocks through the sunroof of a BMW sedan parked outside the Art Gallery of Ontario last week.
The AGO and other museums around the world, from London’s Royal Academy to Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, are collecting Legos for Ai after the Danish toy company refused to sell him some in bulk for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, which opens Dec. 11.
On Instagram, Ai says Lego declined because of its policy against supporting “political works.” The decision sparked an outcry on social media and offers of blocks have poured in with the hashtag #LegosForWeiwei.
Galette and Boisvenue donated their blocks on the first day the Bimmer appeared outside the AGO.
“As an activist, we’re often told to be silent, that there are certain things we cannot do,” Galette said. “It’s very ironic that one company that engaged us in creativity and expression when we were younger is now trying to silence us.”
In an email, Lego spokesman Michael McNally told the Toronto Star: “As a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences for children, we refrain — on a global level — from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda.
“This principle is not new, but has been in place for decades,” he added.
The AGO is using the BMW 5S Series sedan as a Lego container as per instructions from the artist’s studio. The museum bought the car for $6,500 on Craigslist and plans to sell it after it finishes collecting bricks on Jan. 3, said Christy Thompson, the museum’s chief of exhibitions and collections.
“We felt that it was important to participate in a project that reinforces freedom of expression,” she said.
In 2013, the AGO hosted the very popular exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What? The same year, his wall of bicycles was the star attraction at Nuit Blanche and another one of his installations, the bronze sculpted Circle of Animal Heads/Zodiac, adorned the reflecting pool of Nathan Phillips Square.
Ai hasn’t said yet how he will use the Lego blocks exactly, but the exhibition Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei in Melbourne is expected to be similar to the Lego portraits he made of political exiles and prisoners that he displayed last year on Alcatraz in San Francisco, site of the notorious former federal penitentiary.
Ai told the New York Times the outpouring of support was unexpected.
“I could never have predicted this event, that for days, people would flood in, like a river, to support criticism of big companies who do this kind of censorship and to support freedom of speech.”
The BMW’s sunroof is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with extended hours on Wednesday and Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.), weather permitting. The museum accepts donations inside when it is raining or snowing.