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Ai Weiwei vs Lego

26 October 2015

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories. Follow @Rakewelltweets.

‘Design your own artwork! Paint, sketch and draw pictures with all the friends and animals from Heartlake City. Decorate with lots of designer stickers, backgrounds and frames for a perfect finish!’ So reads the caption for Danish toy company Lego’s ‘Art Maker’ game. While Rakewell applauds the brand urging its core demographic of under-10s and middle aged hobbyists to put the iconic coloured bricks to creative use, it seems the invitation is not extended to Ai Weiwei.

Last week, Ai was refused a bulk order of Lego bricks he had requested in order to create a work about freedom of speech for the National Gallery of Victoria’s forthcoming ‘Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei’ spectacular. According to the artist, representatives from the company told him that they ‘could not approve the use of Legos for political works’.

Ai posted the company’s decision on his Instagram, later describing it as ‘an act of censorship and discrimination’. The dissident artist’s plight was, as ever, met with a wave of sympathetic responses on social media, with many fans stepping forward offering to donate their own Lego collections to his project. Others took the bait for gratuitous outrage, with predictable #righteousness.

The news follows a succession of Lego blunders over the past year, having provoked ire over its partnership with oil giant Shell, offering beauty tips to seven year-old girls and marketing a figurine as a ‘window-licker’. One might imagine all this would give cause for the firm to steer clear of bad publicity, but the toymaking giant has so far refused to give ground on the matter.

In an email to the Guardian, wonderfully named Lego spokesman Rude Roar Trangbæk clarified that: ‘In cases where we receive requests for donations or support for projects – such as the possibility of purchasing Lego bricks in large quantities – where we are made aware that there is a political context, we therefore kindly decline support’. So, nothing to do with the company opening a factory in China next year then. The same goes for last year’s Lego Movie, which was not released in cinemas on the Chinese mainland. The Rake suspects its strongly anti-corporate undertones and individualist message may not have played too well with the country’s Politburo.

Political junkies who can’t resist the lure of the bobbly brick need not despair, however. Why not recreate Legoland Windsor’s take on the 2010 UK General Election, which appeared to show David Cameron and Nick Clegg carting Gordon Brown out of 10 Downing St on a stretcher?

If that seems like too much hard work, a quick search on Lego’s official website reveals that the brand produces kits to recreate the White House and Big Ben, retailing respectively for £24.99 and £39.99. To populate your impressive model, Rakewell directs the prospective customer to minifigures.com, where a range of Lego compatible figurines based on the likes of Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nigel Farage and… er… Nick Clegg can be purchased for just £12.95. Alas, no likeness of Xi Jinping has yet been made available.

Got a story for Rakewell? Email rakewell@apollomag.com.