Nearly a century after Claude Monet captured the beauty of lily ponds in a series of Impressionist paintings, Ai Weiwei has reimagined the triptych in a radically new way. The contemporary Chinese artist—known for pushing boundaries—used 650,000 LEGO bricks in 22 different colors to reconstruct the image on a massive scale. Titled Water Lilies #1, this striking piece is part of Weiwei's upcoming exhibition Ai Weiwei: Making Sense opening at the Design Museum in London in April 2023.
Making Sense focuses on Weiwei's interest in design and architecture. In Water Lilies #1, he translates Monet's expressive brushstrokes into a pixelated depiction made up of geometric bricks. And while it may resemble an Impressionist piece from afar, closer inspection reveals that the organic forms are actually rendered with thousands and thousands of blocks, echoing the prevalence of digital art in the modern world. The total length of the piece measures 15 meters (a little over 42 feet), making it the largest LEGO artwork that Weiwei has ever made.
A key difference in Weiwei's Water Lilies #1 is the addition of a dark portal on the right-hand side, which symbolizes a doorway to the desert province of Xinjiang where Weiwei and his father, Ai Qing, were forced to live in exile during the 1960s. This creates a contrast between the lush, watery landscape of Monet's world and the dry underground dugout that Weiwei endured for a part of his life.
“In Water Lilies #1, I integrate Monet's Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me into a digitized and pixelated language,” Weiwei explains. “Toy bricks as the material, with their qualities of solidity and potential for deconstruction, reflect the attributes of language in our rapidly developing era where human consciousness is constantly dividing.”
Water Lilies #1 will be showcased among other pieces, including another LEGO installation made up of thousands of pieces that were donated to Weiwei when LEGO refused to sell him their product in 2014. “Several of the works in this exhibition capture the destruction of urban development in China over the last two decades. With Water Lilies #1, Ai Weiwei presents us with an alternate vision—a garden paradise,” Justin McGuirk chief curator at the Design Museum and curator of Ai Weiwei: Making Sense, says. “On the one hand, he has personalized it by inserting the door of his desert childhood home, and on the other, he has depersonalized it by using an industrial language of modular LEGO blocks. This is a monumental, complex, and powerful work, and we are proud to be the first museum to show it.”
Water Lilies #1 will be on view as part of the Ai Weiwei: Making Sense exhibition, which runs fr April 7 to July 30, 2023, at the Design Museum in London. You can purchase tickets through the museum’s website.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recreated Monet's famous Water Lilies out of 650,000 LEGO bricks.