Constructed entirely of Lego, the work is a recreation of one the most famous paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet. It is the most significant Lego artwork Ai Weiwei has ever made. Titled Water Lilies #1, the work is over 15m long and will span the entire length of one of the walls in the Design Museum gallery.
It is fashioned from nearly 650,000 studs of Lego bricks in 22 colours. This extensive new work will be seen in public for the first time when the Ai Weiwei: Making Sense exhibition opens on Friday, 07 April. It is his biggest UK show in eight years. Water Lilies #1 recreates Monet’s famous painting, Water Lilies (1914 — 26), a monumental triptych currently in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the original painting, Monet depicts one of the lily ponds in the gardens of his home in Giverny near Paris. It is an image that has become world-famous for showing nature’s tranquil beauty. However, the pond and gardens were an artificial construct designed and created by Monet himself at the turn of the 20th century. He had the nearby river Epte partially diverted to create this idealised landscape.
By recreating this famous scene, Ai Weiwei challenges our ideas of reality and beauty. The new image has been constructed out of Lego bricks to strip away Monet’s brushstrokes in favour of a depersonalised language of industrial parts and colours. These pixel-like blocks suggest contemporary digital technologies central to modern life and how art is often disseminated in the contemporary world. Challenging viewers further, included on the right-hand side of Ai’s version is a dark portal, which is the door to the underground dugout in Xinjiang province where Ai and his father, Ai Qing, lived in forced exile in the 1960s. Their hellish desert home punctures the watery paradise.
Ai Weiwei has been using Lego bricks since 2014 when he used them to produce portraits of political prisoners. But Water Lilies #1 is his largest-ever creation in this medium.
Water Lilies #1 will be seen alongside another significant new Lego artwork by Ai Weiwei, also making its international debut at the Design Museum. First announced in January, Untitled (Lego Incident) is part of a series of five expansive ‘fields’ where hundreds of thousands of objects will be laid on the gallery floor. In this field, visitors will see thousands of Lego blocks donated to the artist by public members worldwide in response to Lego’s refusal to sell their products to him in 2014. In addition, these donated bricks are presented at the Design Museum for the first time as fully-formed artwork.