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The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

The breathtaking exhibition "The Art of the Brick" showcases the work of a corporate lawyer–turned-artist whose work is made entirely of Lego bricks.

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Paul Bruinooge

    "The Art of the Brick" at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    Work submitted by the public at "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    Work submitted by the public at "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    "The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square

Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

"The Art of the Brick" by Nathan Sawaya at Discovery Times Square


The city's brimming with new family-friendly shows, and one we've anticipated for months now, "The Art of the Brick," opens at Discovery Times Square on Thursday, June 13. The show presents 100-plus works by NYC-based artist Nathan Sawaya, whose sole medium is Lego bricks, with great flair. (A whopping 56 of those pieces have never been seen before.) For several years, while still a corporate lawyer in New York City, Sawaya made sculptures out of clay, wire and then objects like candy—"kind of like additive sculpture," he says. And that's when the idea came to him to return to the ur–additive building block: Legos. "I chose to use a child's toy partially because it's so accessible, but also because it's the perfect creative medium—and it's fun too!" says the Oregon-born sculptor, who orders millions of the plastic pieces from Legos each year. Eventually Sawaya realized that he'd rather be making sculptures than negotiating corporate contracts and quit the practice of law entirely.

What's remarkable about the show, a portion of which debuted in Australia in 2011, is that it appeals equally, but on different levels, to kids and adults. Sawaya hopes that both will be drawn to the medium in a way that "opens their eyes to the art world," but also inspires them to tap into their own creativity with whatever they have on hand. (As a child, Sawaya wasn't obsessed with Legos but did once make a life-size dog out of Legos when his parents wouldn't get him one.) The works themselves are by turns thought-provoking, visceral, playful and inspired. Here are some of our favorite things to do at "The Art of the Brick."

Study artistic masterpieces
Nathan Sawaya's work is wide-ranging, and the exhibition neatly divides its 100-plus works into ten thematic sections. The first, Paint by Bricks, is a stunning but also cheeky collection of Lego replicas of famous masterwork paintings, from Van Gogh's Starry Night (on view at MoMA) to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Vetruvian Man. Each work in the show is accompanied by a description of the original work and the process of transforming it into a Lego creation, written by the artist, as well as a count of exactly how many Lego bricks it took to create. Among our favorites: riffs on Norwegian Edvard Munch's The Scream, in which the screaming figure pops out of the 2-D Lego "painting" and into the third dimension; San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, a Monet painting of Venice at dusk that Sawaya has transformed into a dazzling work in its own right; and Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich, which, thanks to the Legos' shadow-throwing three-dimensionality, takes on the perspective of an aerial view.

Time-travel through human history
After passing under a translucent facsimile of the Chartres rose window, visitors enter the Sculpture Garden, a collection of stand-alone Lego works that give new shape to historical examples of architecture and sculpture. Among the highlights are Athens' Parthenon and the Nike of Samothrace; a stunning trio of Italian icons: the ancient Greek statue Venus de Milo, the Roman 1st-century Augustus of Prima Porta and Da Vinci's David; and such beloved French works as Degas's Little Dancer and Rodin's The Thinker. Works channeling Egypt (The Bust of Nefertiti and the Great Sphinx) and one of Easter Island's Moai—the giant head at the end of the room—lend the gallery a truly global reach, as does the case of lesser-known (and sometimes anonymous) pieces in the gallery's far corner, including a replica of a Lascaux Cave painting and a seated Buddha.

Get to know the artist
The smallest gallery in the exhibition, The Artist's Studio, is also its most emotionally intimate. In one corner the artist has re-created a mini, prototypical artist's studio complete with easel, a paint palette and paintbrush, a tiled floor and a simple chest of drawers that looks so real it's a surprise to discover that it, too, is made of Legos. A giant pencil is caught writing the word fun in the work Pencil Fun, while a rainbow-colored peace sign beside a pile of leftover Lego pieces reminds viewers that the world is far from perfect. Along the lefthand wall are four large, striking images of Sawaya's wife, Courtney, which seem to symbolize how vital a role she plays in his artistic life. Though small, the colorful heart on one wall seems to speak volumes to the rest of the room.

Watch Legos get supersized
After descending a long staircase, you'll come to a spare, dark gallery called Metamorphosis, filled with some of the artist's largest and most stunning works: a horizontal portrait of a woman doing the freestyle stroke (the shimmering blue video projected on the wall above her artfully suggests she's in a pool); a giant self-portrait in the color red; a gray portrait of a man with no hands, on his knees; and what may be Sawaya's most well-known work, Yellow, which depicts a man pulling apart his chest and having its contents—nothing but copious yellow Lego bricks—spill out in front of him. After the panoply of works in the first two sections, the minimalist gallery is at once calming and full of drama.

Explore human nature
The next two galleries, the Human Condition and Through the Darkness, are peopled with figures that seem to be grappling, each in a different way, with their particular place on earth. In the first gallery, a trio sports a cube, a pyramid and a sphere, respectively, instead of heads; 3-D blue musical notes with heads attached rise to the ceiling; a female figure struggles to free herself from a green rectangular prism; and a blue man in an armchair takes in the struggles of his fellow human beings from a distance. Have the kids try to put into words what each figure might be thinking or feeling and why. The second gallery, Through the Darkness, takes on death and rebirth with a series of brightly colored skeletons; a sculpture of a man removing his face as though it's a mask; a red figure being taken by the arms of darkness; and a stunning work called Ascension, which depicts a figure pulled up upward on a transformative passage.

Go prehistoric
In a clear nod (or perhaps shout-out) to kids, the section Long, Long Ago showcases a gargantuan Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that invariably calls to mind the magnificent fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. Green leaf-shaped shadows sway along the sides of the room and the floor, bathing the room in an unearthly glow that makes it seem as though one's entered another time and place—and once again, for a moment, forget all about the astonishing fact that it's made of nothing but Legos.

Celebrate NYC
The penultimate gallery, called City of Dreams, features none other than Lady Liberty, opening her chest like the figure in the sculpture Yellow, in front of a wraparound backdrop of the NYC skyline. instead of emptiness, though, the chest cavity contains a big red heart. Something tells us this installation could be Hurricane Sandy related, given the statue's situation in New York Harbor.

Check out original Lego works by kids
In the exhibition's last room are creations made of Legos that have been submitted by the general public—including children. Marvel at what the likes of eight-year-olds have made using nothing but Lego bricks and their imagination.

"The Art of the Brick" is on view at Discovery Times Square from June 13 through January 5, 2014.


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