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Queens Chronicle

NYSCI takes Legos to the limits of imagination

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:07 pm, Thu Oct 10, 2019.

Legos were always meant to be a toy that encouraged imagination.

In the hands of artist Nathan Sawaya, they are transformed into studies and expressions of art, science, history, philosophy and the endless bounds of imagination.

“The Art of the Brick,” which debuted last week at the New York Hall of Science and runs through Jan. 26, has more than 100 of Sawaya’s works made of the small plastic bricks.

The smallest are hardly larger than dolls.

The largest, and one of the newest, is a 20-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex.

“There’s more than one million blocks in the exhibit; and more than 80,000 in the Tyrannosaur,” Sawaya, who was an attorney before turning to art a decade ago, said last week in an interview at the museum.

Perhaps his most famous work is “Yellow,” which features the bust of a man made entirely of yellow Legos looking skyward while ripping open his chest and having a pile of yellow bricks pour out.

One tabletop work uses blue bricks depicting a half-submerged swimmer in a pool of glistening blue blocks.

Sawaya’s use of his own art to depict classical artworks comes in many forms.

He has created statues in tribute to the “Venus de Milo,” Michelangelo’s “David,” Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” and one of the massive stone heads on Easter Island.

He paints with the blocks, recreating two-dimensional masterpieces such as Leonardo di Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Rembrandt’s most famous self-portrait of himself as an old man.

But he also has created three-dimensional statues of famous paintings such as “Whistler’s Mother,” Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”

The creative process depends on the work.

Take the T-Rex.

“We know kids like Legos,” Sawaya said. “I asked myself, ‘What else do they like?’ Dinosaurs!”

It took three months.

“An entire summer,” he said. “There’s a lot of engineering involved.”

Every other work in his exhibit travels in one piece. The T-Rex, on the other hand, has 11 separate sections.

“Because it travels, I glue everything together. If I saw that something [while creating the T-Rex] wasn’t working out, didn’t look right, I’d have to take a chisel and destroy several hours’ work. That’s very frustrating.”

Judging from the reaction of the museum’s younger visitors last Saturday, however, Sawaya got the final product exactly right.

The paintings-as-sculpture intrigued him for their own challenges. He used “Whistler’s Mother” — known formally as “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1” — as an example.

“When it’s a subject I’m not familiar with, I do research,” Sawaya said. “You’re trying to make a three-dimensional figure out of a two-dimensional work. But you only see her in profile. You never see her full face.” He discovered that the mother of James McNeill Whistler (1804-1881) was a stern, austere woman.

“I gave her a stern face,” he said.

The exhibit also features a collection of “LEGO brick infused photography” produced in tandem with photographer Dean West.

The far end of the exhibit included an interactive section titled “The Science of the Brick,” in which children of every age can play and experiment with Legos in a series of fun and scientific challenges, such as creating drag-race cars.

Another station challenges participants to make as many objects as they can using only six bricks, while others teach architectural skills or have the visitors reach blindly into a box to assemble objects only by sense of touch.

Sawaya even created a pair of life-size figures who will sit with parents on benches in the interactive section if they want to take a breather while their kids have fun and not realize that they are learning.

‘The Art of the Brick’
 
When: Through Sunday, Jan. 26
Where: New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111 St., Corona
Entry: $20 adults;$15 children with combo admission ticket.

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