The provocative Chinese artist’s bulk order was rejected by the Dutch toymaker ahead of a major exhibition at NGV.

Celebrated artist and activist Ai Weiwei is an outspoken opponent of the government of his native China, but now he has locked horns with an unlikely foe: Danish toy manufacturers LEGO. Ahead of his upcoming exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei, which opens on December 11, the artist has claimed that the LEGO company, whose plastic bricks are an internationally popular toy, has refused to fill a bulk order on “political grounds.”

Ai Weiwei intends to use the bricks to create portraits of Australian activists who have campaigned for human rights and freedom of speech, and took to instagram to tell his 165,000 followers about the snub on Friday. The installation at the NGV is similar to a previous collection by Ai Weiwei exhibited at the now disused Alcatraz prison in San Fransico, which featured LEGO brick portraits of activists such as Nelson Mandela and CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The refusal to honour the order has coincided with a major increase in LEGO’s affiliation with China as it plans to expand into Asian markets. A British firm have secured a contract to build a new Legoland theme park in China, and a new LEGO factory is due to open in China in 2017. However LEGO have issued a statement claiming that the refusal to provide the materials the Chinese artist required is inline with the company’s policy to not “indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities outside the LEGO licensing program. However, we realize that artists may have an interest in using LEGO elements, or casts hereof, as an integrated part of their piece of art.” The statement continued by outlining the legal trademark restrictions which include the use of the word LEGO in the title of any artwork, and that the use of LEGO products should not be linked to works containing “any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements.”


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A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

Ai Weiwei posted the statement to his instagram feed, accompanied by a black and white image of LEGO bricks filling a Marcel Duchamp Fountain inspired toilet bowl. He added, “As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”

Despite this setback the NGV have confirmed that the installation will still be included in the exhibition. Fans of the artist reacted with outrage at LEGO’s refusal to support the Victorian exhibition, with many suggesting that the public should donate their own LEGO bricks to the NGV for use in Ai Weiwei’s work.

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei opens at the National Gallery of Victoria on December 11.