New York artist Sean Kenney has been obsessed with Legos since childhood – so much so that he’s turned it into a full-blown career. The “LEGO-certified professional”, who is only one of 16 people in the world recognized by the Denmark-based LEGO group as an official Lego builder and artist, has used his knack for the colorful childhood toy, to create lego murals, portraits, and massive life-size sculptures.
And now 25 of his best pieces are being showcased in Israel for the very first time.
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For his display, “Art with LEGO Bricks – The Exhibition,” a collection of Lego-inspired artwork, installations, and sculptures currently being showcased at the Tel Aviv Port until the end of the month, the 42-year old Brooklyn-based artist and his team glued nearly a million LEGO pieces together to create massive children’s toys, cityscapes, and geometric mosaics.
While he did not make it to Israel for the exhibit, which he says is being showcased “on this side of the world for the first time,” he did tell NoCamels in an email that he was “very excited to have the chance to bring my work to a new audience.”
It was not easy, he explains. “The sculptures on display here in Tel Aviv were all built by my team at my studio in Brooklyn, NY. It took my team and me over 10,000 hours to design and construct the sculptures, which use nearly a million LEGO pieces. We pressed those pieces together over the course of many years, gluing them together as we went, so the sculptures would be strong enough to ship around the world. Once the sculptures are done, we have custom crates built out of wood and foam to safely transport them here from my studio in New York,” he wrote in the email.
The Tel Aviv exhibit opened on July 26 and will remain until August 31.
“We’ve talked about doing something together in Tel Aviv since 2013,” Kenney said, “Finally the opportunity arose and we seized the opportunity.”
“I’ve always been a huge fan of LEGO toys, ever since I was a little kid,” he explains. “They’re just so intrinsically fun and whimsical. I think they reflect my personality well – I am structured and organized and logical, but I am also rather silly and love to laugh. What better medium than a primary-colored children’s toy based on straight lines, rules, and math? As an art medium, it’s wonderful to see people’s reactions to what I create.”
Kenney’s work has been displayed across the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, China and southeast Asia. He has also published nine award-winning children’s books, and exhibited his artwork in newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and BBC Art.
In Israel, the local production team that helped bring the exhibit to the Tel Aviv port saw an opportunity to make a statement beyond the artwork.
Amid uproar over legislation passed in the Knesset last month that eases surrogacy regulations, but excludes gay couples, the producers partnered with Israeli NGO Avot Gai’im (The Association of Israeli Gay Fathers) to invite some 40 families made up of same-sex couples and their children for a special evening to celebrate the Lego experience.
It was a show of support for the LGBTQ community and the idea that families of all stripes deserve equal rights. The community and its supporters came out in droves last month to protest the law in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Beersheba. The protests capped a day of nationwide strikes by the community backed by Israel’s high-tech and business sectors. High-profile companies including Microsoft, IBM, and the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) announced they would provide a special day off for employees who wanted to participate in the strike and the various demonstrations.
“This is our small contribution to the demonstrations,” Lior Kamali, the exhibit’s promoter in Israel tells NoCamels, noting that the goal is to take advantage of a beautiful family-oriented exhibition, which every family has a right to see.
“We are very touched that they did this initiative in light of what happened with the law passing,” Julian Bahloul, spokesperson for The Association of Israeli Gay Fathers told NoCamels of the Lego exhibit invitation in a phone call, “We feel that Israeli society is standing with us for a good cause.”
Journey through Lego
The Tel Aviv exhibit is divided into different themes, with Kenney’s 25 pieces prominently displayed in the front, as well as other interactive Lego activity areas that were developed by Kamali and three Israeli Lego builders and artists.
“The current collection is only 25 sculptures,” Kamali explained, “and from my experience with the Israeli audience – it’s not enough for them. So I made a decision to have a second room,” he says, adding that Israelis prefer a more interactive area, especially in the summertime when there are children to entertain.
In the first area, Kenney’s pieces are spread out along the wall, with lots of room for the viewer to languish among Lego trains and an intricate model of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the next area, colorful children’s toys including a large yellow “rubber” duck, a giant multicolored xylophone, and a red bicycle take center stage. Nearby, geometric mosaics and pictures of parrots built with pieces of Lego, and Lego lamps are displayed prominently.
In a room based on a city theme, Kenney includes a complex model of New York’s Times Square made from 20,000 pieces of Lego and a green bicycle that rises above a traffic jam of Lego cars.
It’s perhaps his enormous Growing Ideas model that is the centerpiece of the display and his most prized work. Built from 368,0000 Lego blocks, the project took two-and-a-half years to create, Kenney said. The giant tree topped with a cloud made up of white Lego bricks, with more bricks raining down, overlooks a city landscape featuring skyscrapers, homes, shops, and a river all made of Legos.
The interactive areas include a robot activity area, with Lego robots that are able to be maneuvered by tablets into 40 different operating positions, a Technik Complex, which features a section that includes routes for lego Jeeps, a virtual reality area where viewers will be able to get a detailed in-depth look at the creations in 3D, a lego shop featuring rare LEGO models at special prices, and a Robotic Mindstrom Complex, where children can build their own structures and add to the rapidly growing city collection.
“Four years ago when I did the Lego exhibition in 2014, it was Lego City exhibition. This is also something that we developed here,” Kamali said, “We have the biggest Lego city collection in all of Israel. We collect and build on it. We made it to develop a kid’s imagination because they can see the city, how it’s built — you have a city, a village, a farm, an airport. They can see how things work. And then they can look it in more detail in 3D through the VR system.”
While Kamali might be known for bringing complex Lego artwork to Israel — his first was the Art of the Brick, the world’s largest Lego exhibition, in June 2013. The second was Lego City as part of the Lego festival in 2014 where he’s also brought exhibitions on dinosaurs, and the artist Van Gogh in a unique multimedia form. He is also credited with bringing music performances from groups like Evanescence and the Devin Townsend Project to Israel.