“Traveling LEGO Art Exhibit Opens at Museum of Science & Industry”

The traveling exhibit The Art of the Brick, featuring more than 100 of Nathan Sawaya’s artworks comprised of millions of LEGO® bricks, made its Chicago debut at the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) last Friday (Friday, February 10, A.D. 2022).  This exhibit was not created by The LEGO® Group.  However, The LEGO® Group has recognized Mr. Sawaya as both a LEGO® Master Builder and a LEGO® Certified Professional.  The exhibit will run through Monday, September 5, A.D. 2022 (Labor Day).  Update: The Art of the Brick has been extended through Monday, January 16, A.D. 2023.

The Art of the Brick reimagines famous artistic masterpieces into LEGO form,” stated Chevy Humphrey, President and C.E.O. of the M.S.I.  “Visitors of all ages will witness art in a whole new way, while celebrating an imaginative and creative medium.”

Admission to The Art of the Brick is not covered by Museum Entry (general admission) tickets.  Rather, this is a special exhibit that requires separate, timed-entry tickets. Tickets are $14 for adults, $11 for children (ages three-to-eleven), and $7 for Members of all ages.  Click here to purchase tickets. 

The Art of the Brick is in Gallery 1, across from Genetics and next to Science Storms on the Main Level (second floor).  This is one of the two exhibit halls that held Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes last year.[1] 

In a press release, the M.S.I. described the artworks as “original pieces and reimagined world-famous masterpieces.”  These include “Fan favorite ‘Yellow,’ a life-size sculpture of a man pulling his chest apart with thousands of yellow LEGO bricks flowing from the cavity;” Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night; Leonard Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; and “A multimedia collection of LEGO brick infused photography produced in tandem with award-winning photographer Dean West.”  

The Art of the Brick is the first major art exhibition to use LEGO bricks as the sole art medium,” The M.S.I. stated.  “Sawaya transforms LEGO bricks into tremendous and thought-provoking sculptures, elevating the toy to the realm of art.  Sawaya’s ability to transform this common toy into something meaningful, his devotion to spatial perfection and the way he conceptualizes action, enables him to elevate a toy beloved by generations into contemporary art.”

Sawaya usually adds several new sculptures to The Art of the Brick everywhere it goes on exhibition. For the exhibit’s Chicago debut, he added several artworks, including a replica of Chicago artist Hebru Brantley’s Flyboy.

The Art of the Brick takes LEGO somewhere you wouldn’t expect and shows you things you have never seen before,” Sawaya stated.  “The goal with this collection of art is to demonstrate the potential of imagination and the power of creativity.”

“These works are very personal to me, since they reflect my growth as an artist as I strove to discover my creative identity,” Sawaya stated on one of his Websites.  “The museum exhibition is accessible because it engages the child in all of us while simultaneously illuminating sophisticated and complex concepts.  Everyone can relate to the medium since it is a toy that many children have at home.  But my goal with this exhibition when it direct debuted in 2007 was to elevate this simple plaything to a place it has never been before.”

The M.S.I. has supplemented Sawaya’s artworks with the interactive One Brick Studio.  Here, visitors challenge friends or relatives in their party “to recreate a piece of art of express their emotions using LEGO bricks,” according to the M.S.I.  “Inside the studio guests are encouraged to practice the same communication skills that scientists and artists use to share their ideas with the world.”

Nathan Sawaya is an author and public speaker, as well as an artist.  Born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon, he attended New York University and has written two best-selling books.  Originally a corporate lawyer who worked in New York City, he is the first artist to work exclusively in the medium of LEGO® bricks.  He works with standard LEGO® bricks (rather than commissioning The LEGO® Group to make pieces especially for him or purchasing bricks or other pieces with after-market modifications the way Ktown Bricks, for example, will alter pieces to make LEGO® Minifigures™ or accessories that are historically accurate for customers who want to stage battlefield tableaux).

Sawaya wrote and self-published The Art of the Brick – The Pictorial in 2008.  It is a picture book that showcases some of his most famous sculptures, including Yellow, the figure of a man ripping himself apart so yellow bricks cascade out of his chest cavity; Blue, the figure of a man either constructing or deconstructing himself; and a twenty-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton comprised of 80,000 bricks.  Scott Jones wrote The Art of Nathan Sawaya, published by DK in 2012.  Sawya wrote the foreword.  He wrote The Art of the Brick Exhibition, published in 2014; The Art of the Brick: A Life in LEGO, published in 2014; and The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO, published in 2017. 

Today, he has two studios: one in New York City and the other in Los Angeles.  In a 2018 interview, he said he had about 7,000,000 LEGO® bricks in his L.A. studio.  Sawaya has two Websites: www.nathansawaya.com is devoted to Sawaya himself and https://www.brickartist.com  is devoted to The Brick Artist.  

Figure 1 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is artist Nathan Sawaya working in one of his studios on July 17, A.D. 2010.

Figure 2 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: The Art of the Brick includes both replicas of famous artworks and original sculptures Nathan Sawaya designed as well as built out of LEGO® bricks.  This is Swimmer, one of Nathan Sawaya’s original artworks


Figure 3 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is Nathan Sawaya’s replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Figure 4 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: The Art of the Brick is the world’s largest exhibit of artworks comprised entirely of LEGO® bricks, featuring over 100 artworks.

Figure 5 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is Nathan Sawaya’s replica of Michelangelo’s David executed in LEGO® bricks.

Figure 6 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is Nathan Sawaya’s replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  The replica consists of 3,493 LEGO® bricks.

Figure 7 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This display was part of The Art of the Brick on February 14, A.D. 2014 (Saint Valentine’s Day).  It appears to include Nathan Sawaya’s sculptures Red Dress, Red Umbrella, and Dog.

Figure 8 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is a closeup of the dog from the display in Figure 7.  If I am not mistaken, this is his sculpture Dog, which measures 22” x 15” x 43”.

Figure 9 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This appears to be Nathan Sawaya’s sculpture Dinosaur Skeleton.  Built in 2011, it is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “largest LEGO brick skeleton.”  The size of an actual Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, it is twenty feet (six meters) long and is comprised of approximately 80,000 LEGO® bricks.  Mr. Sawaya took the whole summer of 2011 to build Dinosaur Skeleton.

Precedents for LEGO® Exhibits at the Museum of Science & Industry

This is the third Lego® exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, by my count.  The first exhibit was MSI Presents LEGO MINDSTORMS, which was sponsored by LEGO Systems, Inc., a division of The LEGO® Group.  Visitors used LEGO® MINDSTORMS technology to design, build, and program robots in workshops. 

The second exhibit was the temporary exhibit Brick by Brick.  It featured structures designed and built by the LEGO® Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker. The 7,000-square-foot exhibit Brick by Brick opened on the Main Floor of the M.S.I. on Thursday, March 10, A.D. 2016 and ran through Sunday, April 1, A.D. 2018 (Easter Sunday). 

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Visiting the Museum of Science & Industry

I caution the reader that currently, in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, all visitors two and over must be masked, all visitors five and over must be “fully vaccinated” and be able to furnish proof of it, all visitors sixteen and over must furnish photo identification cards, and all parties must purchase tickets online in advance.  Click here for more details.

The Brain Food Court and the Museum Café (a coffee shop that also sold sandwiches) on the Lower Level (ground floor) in the Central Pavilion’s Lower Court are closed while they undergo renovations and will re-open as the Museum Kitchen later this year. 

A new restaurant I mentioned last year, the Museum Parke Café, with outdoor seating in Beaver Park, on the Lower Level, between the Henry Crown Space Center and the East Pavilion, is closed it is safe to assume because Chicago winters do not permit outdoor dining.  It has been replaced by One Small Snack, a takeout café in the southeast corner of the Henry Crown Space Center. 

Finnigan’s Sandwich Shoppe (a rebranding of Finnegan’s Ice Cream Parlor), off Yesterday’s Main Street, on the Main Level, in the Central Pavilion, also seems to be temporarily closed.  I did not see it being marked off as undergoing renovations on the current floor plan, but I surmise that it is closed, too, because I do not see hours listed for it posted on the M.S.I.’s Website and nor is it mentioned on the list of restaurants and shops on the Website.

There are some vending machines located in the Lower Court and there remains a limited amount of seating in the Lower Court.  Visitors who bring their own lunches can eat them in the Lower Court and in a designated area outside the Ships Gallery.

The Idea Factory, an interactive attraction that is popular with young children, located near Farm Tech, in the Central Pavilion on the Lower Level (ground floor) is also closed.  The same is true of the Science Theater, located near Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the south end of the Central Pavilion on the Lower Level.

On the other hand, optional on-board tours of the U-505 have resumed.  Previously, under COVID-19 restrictions, visitors could walk around her in the U-505 exhibit hall, but not through her. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $14 for children (ages three-to-eleven).  For Members, that is $17 for adults and $13 for children.

U505 Submarine @ The Museum of Science+Industry Chicago
Figure 10 J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the (portside of the) U-505 alongside a mockup of her conning tower, two torpedoes, and simulators inside her exhibit hall on August 2, A.D. 2007.

Currently, the Museum of Science and Industry is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The address of the M.S.I. is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.  The Website is https://www.msichicago.org/ and the phone number is (773) 684-1414.

[1] Older employees, volunteers, and visitors may recall this exhibit hall was formerly three exhibit halls and that they held the original Hall of Timekeeping exhibit, the Numbers exhibit, and the Telephone exhibit.  This is not to be confused with the more recent Time exhibit that consisted of timepieces from the Seth Atwood collection.  That exhibit hall is now occupied by Fast Forward.

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