The next time you howl into the night because you stepped on a LEGO brick in your child’s bedroom, consider this: That small plastic cube that tried to murder your foot is like a sculptor’s clay or a painter’s oils, in the right hands.
Nathan Sawaya is one of the world’s best-known artists employing the medium of LEGO. Mile High Mamas met Mr. Sawaya at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Their newest exhibit exclusively features dozens of Sawaya’s pieces. “The Art of the Brick” is a colorfully compelling and broadly appealing collection of artistry and yes, science. Since age five, when many of our own kids discover the joy of clicking those colorful pieces together, Sawaya was obsessed. Who needs marble when you have an artist who once built a full-sized dog as a child because his family didn’t have a dog?
As we snaked our way around the gallery, Sawaya shared his story. He never abandoned playing with LEGO. Laughing, he noted that he didn’t know he could go to art school, so instead, he became a lawyer, landing in New York City. From the outside, people might think he was living a dream life, but Sawaya’s craving for a creative outlet was more alive than ever. LEGO filled his apartment as he built interpretations of famous works of art and his own deeply personal pieces that reflected his desire to leave law to pursue LEGO art full time.
We are thankful he did just that. It wasn’t easy. He didn’t have a lot of support, but he persisted. Years ago, during one of his early gallery exhibitions, a woman had a very emotional reaction to one of his pieces. Sawaya said that moment has stayed with him because it showed him that what he was doing with LEGO was art. When you take in “The Art of the Brick” many of the pieces will stir not only your sense of whimsy but your heart and soul, too. Sawaya isn’t afraid to explore challenging subjects like depression, fear, and anxiety. The use of LEGO to express these hard subjects is an interesting juxtaposition between what is traditionally a child’s toy and grown-up battles.
“The Art of the Brick” also includes odes and interpretations of famous works of art that you and your kids probably know (I spotted a few they’ve seen in Animal Crossing for sure). “The Mona Lisa”, “Starry Night” and a dozen other works are rendered with bricks, creating a pixelated look from up close but a more seamless look from afar. “David” and “The Venus di Milo” are 3D sculptures using tens of thousands of bricks. Sawaya carefully studied every angle of these pieces to get their scale just right. The most eye-popping in the famous-works section are the 3D explorations of paintings. Gustaf Klimt’s “The Kiss” and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” pop right out into the gallery space in a way you’ve never seen them before. Every work is accompanied by information about the art and the number of LEGO bricks Sawaya used to complete the piece. They’ll make your jaw drop. The 2947 pieces on your child’s floor are nothing compared to some of his work.
Other surprises and a compelling collaboration with photographer Dean West round out the exhibit, propelling LEGO into a new league where mediums mix. Make sure to check out the winners of the youth contest held this past spring. They are so well done and will make you smile.
“The Art of the Brick” has traveled around the world, seen in 22 countries in over 100 exhibitions. Now that it has finally landed in Denver, you might wonder if there is anything special in store that nobody else has experienced? Sawaya’s piece “Big Blue (Swimmer)” makes its debut right here in Denver. It’s his largest work to date, using precisely 110,730 LEGO. Denver also holds another special connection for Sawaya. The first time he visited a museum as a child was when he visited the Colorado Museum of Natural History with his grandparents. Today, you know it as the beloved DMNS. (Sawaya also did a fun bonus piece as an exclusive ode to one of the museum’s fixtures on the first floor. Hint: RawRRwwr!)
How is the DMNS handling visits to the museum and special exhibits during this time of Covid-19? Before you go for any visit to the museum, you must purchase or use your membership for timed and dated tickets. To see “The Art of the Brick” specifically, you do not need to purchase an additional ticket. It is free through Labor Day 2020, but you do need an additional timed ticket to get into the gallery. That way, they can control the crowd size to maintain social distancing. The third-floor gallery is expansive, so with crowd limitations, it’s great to know you will be able to spread out and soak in the experience without being near others.
You can do culture in the time of COVID. It involves a little planning, masking up, and spacing ourselves out, but it is worth the effort to see and experience “The Art of the Brick”.
For more information about the DMNS, planning your visit, and “The Art of the Brick” click here.