Sometimes this world shifts in ways that are unexpected, and that happened today in the world of toys. Recently LEGO has made news for both a refusal and, now, a reversal in terms of their policy regarding reviewing bulk brick sales to individuals.
How did the company become embattled in a controversy that involved politics, the Chinese government, and free speech? It all stemmed from their long-standing policy to review bulk orders of bricks and reject any requests where the company believed the bricks would be used to make a political statement. Back in October, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei took LEGO to task over the policy calling their actions nothing short of censorship.
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and political activist who has been openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He’s lead investigations into government programs, been jailed for a time, and worked toward change through his art and the public’s reaction to it. Back in September, Weiwei asked LEGO to sell him bricks for an art installment he had planned. LEGO refused and he took his dissatisfaction with their decision public the following month. His voice was heard as both private individuals and a public campaign marshaled an army of bricks for an exhibition on political dissidents he had planned.
The initial response from LEGO on the issue read as follows…
As a company dedicated to delivering creative play experiences to children, we refrain—on a global level—from engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects that carry a political agenda. Individuals may obtain LEGO bricks in other ways to create their LEGO projects if they so desire, but in cases where we receive requests for donations or support for projects—such as the possibility of purchasing LEGO bricks in very large quantities—and we are aware that there is a political context, we uphold our corporate policy and decline the request to access LEGO bricks directly.
After that, it appeared the matter was closed. That said, the world being what it is, opposition to this position only grew until today’s announcement that LEGO has officially reviewed and changed the policy. They will no longer ask customers what they want to use the bricks to build. They will only ask that customers make it clear that the company does not support or endorse their projects should they be used for a public exhibition.
Weiwei reacted with a single photo on Instagram…
Here, a smile and a set of LEGO bricks are worth more than a thousand words. They’re worth art.
Central to the issue at hand, isn’t art really at the heart of LEGO? Making art through bricks, be it through a child’s eye or a master builder’s vision, has led to creations which now tour the country and draw out fans, young and old in droves. Here in Cincinnati (the base of operations for CompleteSet), The Art of the Brick is currently running at the Cincinnati Museum Center and serves as a perfect celebration of this kind of creativity. Whether you’re studying birds, building the Leaning Tower of Pisa, creating a Sopwith Camel, or just challenging the Joker, you are making art in brick form and it’s great to see LEGO moving forward by fostering creativity regardless of where that build may lead.