Lego has refused to sell bricks in bulk to Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, lest he use them for political expression.
Weiwei, among the country's most famous dissidents, wrote in an Instagram post that he considers the move an act of censorship.
"We're here to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow" (twitter.com/LEGO_Group)
In June 2015 Ai Weiwei Studio began to design artworks which would have required a large quantity of Lego bricks to produce. The works were planned for the exhibition "Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei" at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, to open in December 2015. The artworks' concept relates to freedom of speech.
The museum's curatorial team contacted Lego to place a bulk order and received Lego's reply via email on 12 September 2015: "We regret to inform you that it is against our corporate policy to 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.
In this connection, the LEGO Group would like to draw your attention to the following:
The LEGO trademark cannot be used commercially in any way to promote, or name, the art work.
The title of the artwork cannot incorporate the LEGO trademark.
We cannot accept that the motive(s) are taken directly from our sales material/copyrighted photo material.
The motive(s) cannot contain any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements.
It must be clear to the public that the LEGO Group has not sponsored or endorsed the art work/project.
Therefore I am very sorry to let you know that we are not in a position to support the exhibition Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei by supplying the bulk order." Ai Weiwei Studio was informed by NGV about Lego's rejection of the bulk order.
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.
Lego claims it doesn't support the use of its product in "political works"…
"We refrain, on a global level, from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda. This principle is not new from the LEGO Group."
…but it does when the politics are right, such as in this public works project in Copenhagen noted by Gawker's Melissa Cronin, who points out the amusingly imminent opening of Legoland Shanghai.
Copenhagen 2008: @LEGO_Group gave bricks for public art project so we could build anything. VERY political. @aiww pic.twitter.com/8PKX9B6V9K
— Michael Oman-Reagan (@OmanReagan) October 24, 2015
CNN reports that Lego has a "history of hiding" when it comes to exactly what is built by the builders of tomorrow.
[Spokesperson] Trangbaek added that the company denies "donations or support for projects — such as the possibility of purchasing Lego bricks in very large quantities, which is not possible through normal sales channels — where we are made aware that there is a political context."
Trangbaek went on to reiterate today that they do not censor, prohibit or ban creative use of LEGO bricks, saying, "We acknowledge, that LEGO bricks today are used globally by millions of fans, adults, children and artists as a creative medium to express their imagination and creativity in many different ways. Projects that are not endorsed or supported by the LEGO Group."