I first fell in love with Lego as a child. We spent so many happy hours together, lying around doing everything and nothing. l can’t remember a world without those ubiquitous little bricks. But I must come clean: LEGO and I have kind of been ‘on a break’ lately.
Fast forwarding a few decades from our passionate beginnings, things have soured. Let’s face it – having kids changes things.
As a parent, LEGO now means expensive Christmas and birthday presents. Or stepping through fire pits of strewn wheels and windows. Or tears when the most important piece of the puzzle gets lost to a hungry Hoover. Or blind bags with tragically disappointing contents.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have a soft spot for LEGO, but the era of gendered pink fluffy pets pitted against quasi-Japanese warriors left me cold. I further lost interest when LEGO started telling me what to do, via packs with firm instructions to build one type of space vehicle only.
How I missed the spontaneity and colour of our early years together!
And then, the final straw. I took the family to a local LEGO fan expo. We were ushered along fenced viewing pathways, prodded like abattoir cattle towards our inevitable (financial) demise in the merch store, while sweaty Star Wars characters circled like vultures waiting to charge us for photo ops. Prams clipped my heels and crying children left their Slurpee cups on the displays. ‘No more!’ I cried. LEGO – it’s over.
It’s not me, it’s you…
But that was then. Like so many a modern relationship, LEGO eventually found me again via Facebook. I started seeing event postings for something called Wonders of the World, created by a guy known as the Brickman. It piqued my interest.
I did a little stalking and discovered that there is (still) much more to LEGO than what you see on the department store shelves. Yes, you can still buy mixed bags of multi-coloured bricks and do whatever you like with them! In fact, if you’re particularly clever you can build the Taj Mahal, or the Arc de Triomphe or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – and you don’t even have to follow an instruction book.
I approached Brickman’s Wonders of the World exhibition like a nervous dater who’d just swiped right … albeit with 3 kids in tow. Would I still get that thrill in the pit of my stomach? Had LEGO changed enough for me to let it back into my life?
Brickman: Wonders of the World LEGO exhibition review
Brickman’s Wonders of the World exhibition looks to the past and the future at the same time. To use a bit of wanky artspeak, it’s delightfully post-modern, locating the world’s most enduring and marketable ‘toy’ within elegantly curated spaces that would be at home in a world class gallery. Each sculpture recreates one of the world’s most impressive buildings, inventions or works of art … then peppers it with ‘Easter eggs’ and interactive opportunities to keep visitors of all ages mesmerized.
Classical music is piped in and visitors approach the displays with reverence. Each model is accompanied by an information panel, detailing how long the construction took and some historical background. Come for the LEGO; stay to brush up on your knowledge of ancient Egypt or modern North Korea!
Building spaces are dotted throughout the exhibition and themed to match the displays. Sit at the feet of Michelangelo’s David and use white bricks alone to release your inner sculptor. Celebrate the classic VW Beetle by building your own set of wheels to race down a track. It’s relaxed and relaxing, with timed entry keeping crowds under control, giving you space to appreciate the sheer scale of each LEGO replica and try your hand at some modelling.
Stand out pieces for me included The Titanic, complete with kissing couples floating tragically in the icy sea, and St Basil The Blessed – the Russian cathedral whose iconic colourful spires could surely send a Lego builder quite mad in the attempt to render it accurately.
By chance, I got chatting to the seemingly-sane Mark Curnow – one of the Brickman creative team, and the brains behind this stunning LEGO cathedral. I asked him whether he thinks of himself as an artist? “Some people call it a craft,” he said, “because we’re recreating objects, rather than inventing artworks from scratch. I do other kinds of drawing and painting too, though, so, yes, I guess I call myself an artist.”
I have seen a lot of art. I have visited a lot of galleries. I have walked away in tears of joy and tears of boredom. I know a lot of people who call themselves artists and yet never actually create a thing. Lego art must surely be one of the best kinds of art from an artist’s perspective?
Everyone who enters this gallery leaves wide eyed and open mouthed, eager to imitate the creations at home – the highest form of flattery! Unlike the Louvre, not one punter here complained about the size of the Mona Lisa.
The Brickman team is led by Ryan Mc Naught, the southern hemisphere’s only LEGO Certified Professional. This means that the top dogs at LEGO HQ approve of his building proficiency, along with his ability to inspire, share and teach. McNaught looked pretty proud of the empire he’s created as he chatted with fans at the exhibition, inviting them to help him out with a work-in-progress Great Barrier Reef.
It’s LEGO…but is it art? In this case, the answer is yes! Wonders of the World is a beautiful, clever exhibition with loads of chances to get hands-on. See it in Brisbane until 14th December with other cities to follow.
So, LEGO … where to from here?
As for me. Well, it looks like I’m once again ‘in a relationship’. This stunning showcase of imaginative, educational, unisex artworks reminded me just why I fell in love with LEGO in the first place. In fact, I’m tempted to sneak back for a second date … without the kids.