Review: The Art of the Brick – LEGO at Discovery Times Square

While not an exhibit intended specifically for kids, The Art of the Brick definitely appeals to kids. And to adults too. The positive message extolling the virtues of art, and Nathan Sawaya’s optimism, “art can be anything” brings a fresh air to the exhibit. You can even be a successful artist like Sawaya, after going to law school and doing corporate mergers for several years. My son now wants to be a LEGO artist. Well, he did before too, but now he wants to even more.

See below for discount ticket information for the Art of the Brick.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The sign when you enter is probably the only thing in the exhibit NOT made of LEGOs (okay, the signs and tables aren’t LEGO either). Room after room continues to delight and surprise.

Opening the exhibit was the Paint by Bricks section

, featuring various famous works of art, represented by LEGOs. The Kiss by Gustav Klimt was the first one.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (18,893 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

While the explanations for each piece were interesting and helpful, unfortunately I couldn’t get my kids to read them. As Sawaya himself said, this would be a great way to teach kids about art. And he’s right. Sawaya’s commentary included a discussion of the art work and sometimes the challenges in creating it with LEGOs – how he made decisions on color, shape and line.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1,694 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

You’re probably wondering if Sawaya uses specially made LEGO pieces, and the answer is a resounding NO. He uses the regular rectangular bricks that our kids play with – in traditional colors. And he buys them. LEGO must be making a fortune from his work.

Masterpiece after masterpiece is recreated in LEGOs, from da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man to Van Gogh’s Starry Night, to American Gothic and Whistler’s Mother (with 15,283 bricks).  He uses LEGOs as a medium because they’re accessible.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Northern Windows of Chartres (17,842 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

One of my favorites was this stained glass church window, which reflected the light so beautifully.

The next section was the Sculpture Garden. A striking Parthenon (30,210) was lit from within, a 1:30 scale.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Greek vase. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

While a bit bumpy, these statues were amazing to look at.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

 

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Kneeling archer – Terracotta Warrior. (11,200 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Having recently seen the Terracotta Warriors, also at Discovery Times Square, it was a pleasure to see the lifesize figure in a different medium. We also saw Nephertiti, the Great Sphinx at Giza (1:50 scale) and Degas’ Little Dancer of 14 Years Old. On the wall, a television screen flashed images of the original sculptures along with the LEGO version.

Girl with a Pearl Earring. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Easter Island statue (75,450). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

One of my favorites was this large Easter Island statue.

From there we headed into the Artist’s Studio, more free-form creations like a giant pencil writing the word “fun” in LEGOS. And several painting-like portraits of Sawaya’s partner in various colors – best viewed from a distance.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
All made of LEGOs (11,561 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

I loved this studio creation, not for its originality, but because everything except the walls is made of LEGOs. Even the easel, furniture and floors. You can watch a sped-up version of Sawaya creating one of his human figures on a television screen (the TV is not LEGO, but the items on top are). In here you realize that there’s music in each of the rooms, adding to the mood trying to be created. Here was classical music. In galleries below, you’ll find different sounds.

It was here my son said “he’s lucky to get to play with LEGOs and create all day and do it for a living. I want to be like him.”

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Facemask (10,770 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Now we’re in the Metamorphasis gallery, where the famous yellow man sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, with yellow LEGOs spilling out is featured. He created a sculpture called Hands, which is “literally my nightmare.” Not my nightmare, of course, but his. The hands have disintigrated, showing his fear of losing his hands. The piece took 3 weeks and 15,000+ LEGOs to create it.

Facemask above is a self-portrait, though after seeing actual pictures of him, does not look like him to me at all. He’s much better looking, and not so red. He used dozens of photos from different angles to create this piece, which took a month and is quite large. My photo doesn’t provide the proper perspective.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Stepladder (4,054). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

From here we’re on to the Human Condition gallery, showing humans interacting with each other, showing the hollowness of the body and more. When you enter, you’ll see three humans, each a different primary color and each with a different shape for a head (9,147-10,305 bricks each). On the wall, Sawaya’s quote is that of his human form subjects, most are figures in transition, in metamorphosis. The pieces grew out of his fears and  accomplishments from various stages of his life.

One favorite is this orange stepladder piece, where he says that sometimes when you’re looking for a step up, you don’t have to look any further than yourself, since we’re all capable of more than we think. Another figure, Inside Red, shows just the two dimensional shell of a person, noting that when we’re born, we’re all given a shell to live in and the joys of living is being able to fill it any way we like.

In this way, the LEGO exhibit is much more than a children’s gallery full of interesting LEGO pieces. Sawaya gives his figures some depth and yearning.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Skulls (12,444 bricks each)Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The next section was Through the Darkness, and indeed the gallery is mostly dark with some eerie music. The best known pieces here are the skulls, where Sawaya likes to juxtapose the idea of a child’s toy with the more sinister skull. They took more than three weeks to make. There were some other existential pieces in here that were thought provoking.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Dinosaur (80,020 bricks). Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Sawaya made this T-Rex dinosaur for kids to enjoy, and enjoy it they did. It has its own gallery, with matching bird noises to match. My kids sat right down to stare and admire it, wondering how he kept his in his studio since it’s 20 feet long and needs wires to hold it up.

At this point we’re almost done, heading into the City of Dreams gallery for a few choice local pieces. Surprisingly, Sawaya hasn’t had a showing in New York, the city he calls home (he grew up elsewhere but moved here for college at NYU and never left).

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The Statue of Liberty (12,006 bricks), with a panoramic photo of New York City in the background. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

This is the end of the exhibition, though you’ll enter a gallery with pieces made for an Art of the Brick contest. They put the artist’s ages on their placards, and it was amusing to read “age 31.5” in addition to “age 7.” They were quite good.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Baseball player (4,661 bricks) by Sawaya. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

In a fun surprise, before exiting you can write your name with Sharpie on a brick and add to the sculpture seen below. Sawaya will create a sculpture using these bricks in the future.

Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan 
Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan 
Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Can you see our brick? Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The gift shop was especially fun, with awesome books like:

Brick City: Global Icons to Make From LEGO

The Art of Nathan Sawaya

I Lego NY by Christoph Niemann

A Million Little Bricks: The Unofficial History of the LEGO Phenomenon by Sarah Herman

The LEGO Ideas book by Daniel Lipkowitz

LEGO a Love Story by Daniel Bender

The Cult of LEGO by John Baichtal and Joe MenoJohn Baichtal and Joe Meno

IF YOU GO:

Exhibit dates: now through January 5, 2014

Also at Discovery Times square: Shipwreck: Pirates and Treasure and Body Worlds: Pulse. Click on those for the Jersey Kids reviews.

Where: Discovery Times Square (226 West 44th Street)

When: Open Sunday through Thursday (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.), Friday and Saturday (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Last allowed entry is 60 minutes prior to closing.

Tickets: $19.50/adult, $16.50/senior, $14.50/kids (ages 4-12). Buy by phone at (866) 987-9692, or at the box office.

Combo tickets with Body Worlds: Pulse (click link for review) and/or Shipwreck (click for review), click here for prices. 

I’ll post discount ticket information for the Art of the Brick Discovery Times Square as it becomes available.

Logistics: You’ll need to check your bags there – they have a free coat check. They have a cupcake stand at the exit (you can go there first if you need) – get a treat after the show. No food/drinks allowed inside. We spent about 45 minutes at the exhibition. No photos allowed.

The Art of the Brick provided me with tickets to review the show. All opinions are my own.

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