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‘Mona Lisa’ in Legos: New art exhibit comes to the California Science Center

Nathan Sawaya’s Lego duplicates of famous statues
Nathan Sawaya’s Lego duplicates of famous statues — Venus de Milo, left, Augustus and Michelangelo’s David — are now on display at the California Science Center.
(Terry Gardner)

Ready to be amazed by Lego builds without having to go to Legoland California? More than 100 works of art created in the trademark plastic bricks — including the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and random human forms ready to take a photo with you — make up “The Art of the Brick” at the California Science Center.

In a dry winter, wildflowers might be visible only up close. But the delights of the Palm Springs area blossom even when flowers don’t.

Contemporary artist Nathan Sawaya created the works that have been on tour to more than 100 cities around the world in the past few years. I first saw this show at the Ben Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 2015. Thank goodness Sawaya chose art over practicing corporate law in New York City, working in mergers and acquisitions, and securities.

Now he creates Lego sculptures and runs the Art Revolution Foundation to help prioritize art in schools."I believe Lego does translate into a universal language,” Sawaya says in an email.

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He began working with Legos in 2002 in works that merge Pop Art and Surrealism into 3-D works, according to his website. And though he has a working relationship with Lego, he doesn’t work for the company. “I buy all of my bricks, just like everyone else, but the difference is that I buy hundreds of thousands each month,” he writes.

At the California Science Center, each gallery is filled with familiar images re-created in Legos: Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and “Whistler’s Mother” all share the same space. A giant dinosaur inhabits a gallery unto itself, and the sculptures “Venus de Milo,” Roman ruler “Augustus” and Michelangelo’s “David” hang out on the same block.

Nathan Sawaya working with Legos
Nathan Sawaya works on creating “Yellow,” which is on display in “Art of the Brick.”
(“Art of the Brick”)

“Yellow,” Sawaya’s most famous sculpture, is an original composition that shows a bust of a man holding his gut open while yellow brick innards flow forth. Sawaya said it took about two to three weeks and 11,000 bricks to create the rather agonizing image.

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Before the exhibition opened, I asked Sawaya what questions children usually ask him. “Kids have one question that’s very common: ‘How can I get your job?’ And I always tell them: ‘Hang on to your imagination. Don’t lose your creativity, and practice. Practice with your Lego bricks — that’s key.’” Patience helps too, because these Lego sculptures take time to complete.

A Lego man in blue sits with visitors at the California Science Center’s “The Art of the Brick.”
A Lego man in blue sits with visitors at the California Science Center’s “The Art of the Brick.”
(Terry Gardner)

At the show, you can step up and try your hand at nine activity stations that are Lego interactive. You can solve Lego building challenges such as building an object from six bricks that you assemble by touch inside a box.

Snap your picture with one of Nathan Sawaya’s creations at “The Art of the Brick.”
Snap your picture with one of Nathan Sawaya’s creations at “The Art of the Brick.”
(Terry Gardner)

Rather than solve a puzzle, I enjoyed getting my picture taken with two different Lego men sitting on separate benches. One was blue and one was green (I found them both attractive good listeners).

Entry to the Science Center is free, but tickets to “Art of the Brick” are separately priced at $12.75 for children younger than 13 and $19.75 for adults. You can buy timed entrance tickets in advance online ($2 service fee) to avoid waiting in line.

“The Art of the Brick” runs until Sept. 7.

Want a bigger Lego fix? Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad is open daily. It boasts about 60 million Legos at the site about 90 miles south of downtown L.A.

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Info: “The Art of the Brick” at the California Science Center


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