lego really regrets not supplying lego to ai weiwei

After being accused of censorship last year, the company has claimed that the great Lego art scandal of 2015 was due to an 'internal mistake.'

by Hannah Ongley
28 April 2016, 7:28pm


Last year prolific artist, activist, and Instagrammer Ai Weiwei was planning a new exhibition to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria. As it was conceived, the works would have done double time as a political statement about free speech and one of best pieces of free advertising in Lego history. As it panned out, the toy brick maker copped a lot of bad press after refusing to supply Weiwei with a bulk order. Lego vice-chairman Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen has now admitted that this move was an "internal mistake."

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Kristiansen claimed that a low-level employee had declined Weiwei's order based on a too-literal reading of the company policy. "It is a typical example of what can go wrong in a big company," added Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, son and successor of Kristiansen. 

It's not known exactly how much Lego Weiwei requested. After his order was denied, he posted a photo to Instagram accusing the company of censorship. "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'," he wrote in a caption, hinting that the decision was based on Lego protecting its business interests in China. "Oct 21, a British firm formally announced that it will open a Legoland in Shanghai as one of the many deals of the UK-China 'Golden Era,'" he added. Kristiansen has denied this latter claim. 

After posting the Instagram, Weiwei was able to complete the work thanks to donations from his fans. The hashtags #LegosForFreedom and #LegosForWeiwei started circulating on social media and Lego collection points were set up around the globe. Weiwei was still very irked at the company, posting a series of followup Instagrams calling out their questionable values. "Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination," he captioned a photo of a toilet bowl filled with the tiny plastic bricks.

It was hardly the first time the controversial artist has encountered an obstacle in his relentless pursuit of transparency. Nor was it the first time he had opted for Lego as a medium: in 2014 he carpeted former Federal prison Alcatraz in large-scale Lego portraits of political prisoners and exiles. 


Text Hannah Ongley

Ai Weiwei