Lego has refused to send Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei a bulk order of its toy bricks, the artist claims, because it “cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.”
Ai Weiwei, a vocal opponent of the Chinese government’s iron-fisted censorship, wrote on Instagram Friday that he had planned to use the Legos in a piece on free speech called “Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei” for display later this year in Australia’s National Gallery of Victoria, which placed the Lego order for him.
Just weeks after Lego denied his order in September, he noted, the Danish toy company announced plans to open a new Legoland theme park in Shanghai.
In September Lego refused Ai Weiwei Studio’s request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.” On Oct 21, a British firm formally announced that it will open a new Legoland in Shanghai as one of the many deals of the U.K.-China “Golden Era.”
The artist quickly denounced Lego for censoring political work.
“As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values,” he wrote in a second post on Saturday showing the toy bricks in a toilet. “Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”
“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.
Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbæk told The Huffington Post in an email that he could not comment on the company’s dialogue with individual customers but that it avoids “actively engaging” in political works by supplying bulk orders:
We acknowledge, that LEGO bricks today are used globally by millions of fans, adults, children and artists as a creative medium to express their imagination and creativity in many different ways. Projects that are not endorsed or supported by the LEGO Group.
However, as a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences to children, we refrain – on a global level – from actively engaging in in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda. This principle is not new.
In cases where we receive requests for donations or support for projects – such as the possibility of purchasing LEGO bricks in very large quantities, which is not possible through normal sales channels – where we are made aware that there is a political context, we therefore kindly decline support.
Any individual person can naturally purchase LEGO bricks through normal sales channels 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 actively engaging in these activities – through for example bulk purchase.
A number of Ai’s supporters are already helping the artist get around the company’s policy by sending him Legos and encouraging others to do so on social media, The Guardian noted.
— Jacqueline Who (@jacqueline_who) October 25, 2015
— Dave Hall (@skwashd) October 25, 2015
— Wu Tun 吴吞 (@wu_tun) October 25, 2015
— Ai Weiwei Film (@AWWNeverSorry) October 24, 2015
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