Late last week, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei announced via his Instagram that Danish toy company LEGO had refused to supply him with a bulk order. The LEGO elements would have been used to create work of art for the exhibition “Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei” at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, to open in December 2015.
Since the news broke, people have come down on both sides of the issue, but mostly – let’s be real – on the side of Weiwei. Immediately following, LEGO’s head of marketing in Australia Troy Taylor said, “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 from the LEGO Group.”
"We're here to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow" (twitter.com/LEGO_Group) In June 2015 Ai Weiwei Studio began to design artworks which would have required a large quantity of Lego bricks to produce. The works were planned for the exhibition "Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei" at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, to open in December 2015. The artworks' concept relates to freedom of speech. The museum's curatorial team contacted Lego to place a bulk order and received Lego's reply via email on 12 September 2015: "We regret to inform you that it is against our corporate policy to indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities outside the LEGO licensing program. However, we realize that artists may have an interest in using LEGO elements, or casts hereof, as an integrated part of their piece of art. In this connection, the LEGO Group would like to draw your attention to the following: The LEGO trademark cannot be used commercially in any way to promote, or name, the art work. The title of the artwork cannot incorporate the LEGO trademark. We cannot accept that the motive(s) are taken directly from our sales material/copyrighted photo material. The motive(s) cannot contain any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements. It must be clear to the public that the LEGO Group has not sponsored or endorsed the art work/project. Therefore I am very sorry to let you know that we are not in a position to support the exhibition Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei by supplying the bulk order." Ai Weiwei Studio was informed by NGV about Lego's rejection of the bulk order. As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.
This is being seen by many as an act of censorship and LEGO donations have poured into Ai Weiwei’s studio. What makes this especially troubling is LEGO’s history as a company that encourages creative thinking. A Legoland park is slated to open in Shanghai and LEGO recently invested in a manufacturing facility in Jianxing, pointing to increased involvement in the Chinese market.
LEGO spokesman Roar Rude Trangbæk notes: “Any individual person can naturally purchase or get access to LEGO bricks in other ways to create their LEGO projects if they desire to do so, but as a company, we choose to refrain from engaging in these activities – through for example bulk purchase. 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.”
It seems that the basis of LEGO’s refusal lies in the perceived support of a political viewpoint based on them supplying a bulk order.
So what do you think? Is LEGO being short-sighted, or worse, acting as censors, in their refusal to supply the artist for the upcoming exhibition? Or has this been blown out of proportion?
Share your thoughts in the comments!