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Donate your Lego for art: Ai Weiwei fills cars with Lego bricks in protest

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei has taken his battle with Lego to the next level, calling on people across the world to donate their unused Lego bricks in the name of "freedom of speech."

Artist Ai Weiwei's Lego installation at Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay.
Beck Diefenbach/Corbis

Frustrated parents around the world are used to finding stray pieces of Lego abandoned in their cars. But now Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is calling on Lego lovers to fill cars to the brim with Lego bricks, all in the name of art.

The dissident artist is well known for his modern works, and is certainly no stranger to the world of Lego. In 2014, Ai Weiwei created 176 portraits out of the colourful building blocks for a large scale installation at San Franscisco's Alcatraz Prison.

But now the artist needs Lego to create his next project and, after being denied a bulk order by the Danish toy manufacturer, he's turned to toy lovers of the world to help his cause.

In June, Ai began work on an exhibition for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, set to open this December. The works for the exhibition, which he says are built on the concept of "freedom of speech," would have required a bulk order of Lego bricks to be completed. But the artist says his order was knocked back based on the installation's "political" nature.

"The museum's curatorial team contacted Lego to place a bulk order and received Lego's reply via email on 12 September 2015: 'We regret to inform you that it is against our corporate policy to indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities outside the LEGO licensing program'," the artist wrote on his Instagram account.

"As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination."


The National Gallery of Victoria in Australia has already set up a Lego collection point for Ai Weiwei in the gallery's sculpture garden.

National Gallery of Victoria

But now, Ai Weiwei has found a much more useful place to throw his toys.

The artist is setting up a number of Lego "collection points" around the world for donations of unwanted Lego. These drop-off points have become an art installation in their own right, which Ai says defends "freedom of speech and 'political art'."

Each "Lego container" is actually a second-hand BMW 5S Series sedan, complete with sunroof for passers by to pour in their Lego. After setting up in Beijing, the National Gallery of Victoria is preparing to roll out a BMW of its own to set up the first international collection point ahead of December's exhibition.

"We have received many offers of donations of Lego in the past days," said NGV Director Tony Ellwood. "People have shown their generosity, creative spirit and enthusiasm to become engaged in this project."

More BMWs are set to pop up across the world, including Berlin, Brooklyn and London. Lego fans have already taken to social media to show their support for the cause, and based on Ai Weiwei's Instagram feed, the donations are already pouring in.

A spokesman for Lego said that while the company could not comment on specific cases, Lego respected "any individuals' right to free creative expression, and we do not censor, prohibit or ban creative use of Lego bricks."

"We refrain -- on a global level -- from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda," he said. "I would like to stress that this principle is neither new nor is it isolated to any specific region of the world or specific projects."

Updated at 3:30 p.m. AEST: Included comment from Lego.