Ai Weiwei Recreates Monet’s Water Lilies Triptych Using 650,000 Lego Bricks

Near­ly a cen­tu­ry after Claude Mon­et paint­ed them, the Nymphéas, or Water Lilies, still impress as a vision of a seem­ing­ly minor sub­ject real­ized at a grand scale. The paint­ings installed in a ded­i­cat­ed room at the Musée de l’O­r­angerie in Paris make an espe­cial­ly strong impact on their view­ers — an impact sure­ly not lost on Ai Wei­wei, who has late­ly re-cre­at­ed anoth­er set of Water Lilies (a trip­tych whose orig­i­nal resides at the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art) entire­ly out of Lego bricks. Titled Water Lilies #1, this 50-foot-long plas­tic homage will go on dis­play at Lon­don’s Design Muse­um as part of Ai Wei­wei: Mak­ing Sense, which opens on April 7th and runs until July 30th.

“Ai used 650,000 Lego bricks in 22 col­ors in his ver­sion of the famous Impres­sion­ist trip­tych,” writes ART­news’ Karen K. Ho. Apart from sim­ply repli­cat­ing, brick by pix­el-like brick, the brush­strokes with which Mon­et repli­cat­ed the lily pond at his Giverny home, Wei­wei also includ­ed “a dark area on the right-hand side. The Design Muse­um said it rep­re­sents the under­ground dugout in Xin­jiang province where Ai and his father, Ai Qing, lived in forced exile in the 1960s.” On one lev­el, this is an unex­pect­ed addi­tion; on anoth­er, it’s just the touch one might expect from the most famous dis­si­dent Chi­nese artist alive.

Image by Ela Bialkowska/OKNO Stu­dio

Expe­ri­enced in the medi­um of Lego, Ai has also used every­one’s favorite build­ing blocks “to pro­duce por­traits of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. In 2017, the Hir­sh­horn Muse­um and Sculp­ture Gallery exhib­it­ed 176 of these Lego art­works.” Mak­ing Sense will also include a new Lego piece called Unti­tled (Lego Inci­dent), which, as the Guardian’s Car­o­line Davies writes, “com­pris­es thou­sands of Lego blocks donat­ed by mem­bers of the pub­lic after Lego briefly refused to sell their prod­ucts to him in 2014.” It seems that Lego had reser­va­tions about being asso­ci­at­ed with such a polit­i­cal­ly charged project. The state­ment made by Water Lilies #1 may be less direct, but — enriched by its large scale, its cross-cul­tur­al inspi­ra­tion, and its mate­ri­als that have long been a near-uni­ver­sal fix­ture of child­hood — it won’t be any less pow­er­ful.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Monet’s Water Lilies: How World War I Inspired Mon­et to Paint His Final Mas­ter­pieces & Cre­ate “the World’s First Art Instal­la­tion”

How to Paint Water Lilies Like Mon­et in 14 Min­utes

Ai Wei­wei Cre­ates Hand-Silkscreened Scarves Draw­ing on a Chi­nese Paper Cut­ting Tra­di­tion

Who’s Afraid of Ai Wei­wei: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

Hokusai’s Icon­ic Print, “The Great Wave off Kana­gawa,” Recre­at­ed with 50,000 LEGO Bricks

The Vin­cent van Gogh “Star­ry Night” LEGO Set Is Now Avail­able: It’s Cre­at­ed in Col­lab­o­ra­tion with MoMA

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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