Ai Weiwei Claims Freedom of Speech Victory in Battle Over Legos
More than two months after the artist Ai Weiwei launched an elaborate worldwide protest against Lego Group for its refusal to place a bulk order for him, the toy company, which he accused of censorship, has agreed to revise its policy.
“Previously, when asked to sell very large quantities of Lego bricks for projects, the Lego Group has asked about the thematic purpose of the project,” the Danish company said in a statement released Tuesday. “However, those guidelines could result in misunderstandings or be perceived as inconsistent,” the group said, explaining its decision to allow consumers to purchase large quantities of Legos without disclosing their intended purpose.
The reversal marks a triumph for the political artist, who had intended to use the Legos in a large-scale exhibition in December at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. In an interview with BBC News on Wednesday, he championed the move, calling it a “small victory for freedom of speech.”
Lego’s initial rejection of the bulk order—the company expressed concern that its brand might be associated with Ai’s political agenda—didn’t stop the artist from carrying out his creative vision. Having commissioned a factory in his native China to create replicas of the plastic bricks, he used the small multicolored pieces to construct quotes and images celebrating Australian defenders of human rights.
The installation, titled Letgo Room, pays homage to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, aboriginal activist Gary Foley, agender advocate Norrie May-Welby, domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, and Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, among others. A quote from Triggs—“Human rights are for everyone, everywhere, everyday”—is emblazoned with black bricks on a white gallery wall, also made of reproduced Legos. Ai announced last week that he was donating all the works in the exhibition to the National Gallery of Victoria, where they’re on display.
But the artwork that garnered the most interest by far was not staged in the museum but outside art institutions in 18 cities across the globe. Wei planted BMW sedans on the street and instructed his fans to dump their Lego collections inside via the sunroofs, as a kind of large-scale mobile collection bin.
The artist has not yet unveiled what he plans to do with the Legos, but in an Instagram post on Wednesday, he suggested the protest effort has come to an end in light of Lego’s new policy. He responded to the news by posting a photo of himself with Legos stuck to his hair, beard, and face.
12) San Francisco – Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, 2 Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA 13) Wellington - Pataka Art+Museum, Cnr Parumoana & Norrie Streets, Porirua, Wellington, Porirua City 5240, New Zealand. 14) Massachusetts – MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247, USA. 15) Sydney – Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia. 16) Toronto – Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto Ontario, Canada M5T 1G4 17) Los Angeles – The Museum of Contemporary Art, Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA 18) Seattle – Asian Art Museum,1400 East Prospect Street, Seattle, WA, 98112. USA 12. Jan. 2016 Lego announces on it’s website that as of January 1st, the Lego Group no longer asks for the thematic purpose when selling large quantities of Lego bricks for projects: “The LEGO Group has adjusted the guidelines for sales of Lego bricks in very large quantities. Previously, when asked to sell very large quantities of Lego bricks for projects, the Lego Group has asked about the thematic purpose of the project. This has been done, as the purpose of the Lego Group is to inspire children through creative play, not to actively support or endorse specific agendas of individuals or organizations. However, those guidelines could result in misunderstandings or be perceived as inconsistent, and the Lego Group has therefore adjusted the guidelines for sales of Lego bricks in very large quantities. As of January 1st, the Lego Group no longer asks for the thematic purpose when selling large quantities of Lego bricks for projects. Instead, the customers will be asked to make it clear - if they intend to display their Lego creations in public - that the Lego Group does not support or endorse the specific projects.”