Part of a major international exhibition planned for Melbourne has been thrown into doubt after toymaker Lego refused to supply building blocks for the project.
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Lego refused his studio’s request for a bulk order of Lego to create an artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria.
A spokeswoman for the National Gallery of Victoria said the Lego was required for a “room scale installation” Ai Weiwei was planning, highlighting Australian activists and advocates for human rights and free speech.
The gallery is planning to bring the works of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei to Melbourne this summer, in the largest international contemporary show ever held at the gallery.
In an Instagram post, the artist said Lego told him “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works”.
The post implies that Lego is protecting its commercial interests because on October 21, a British firm formally announced that it would open a new Legoland in Shanghai.
Ai Weiwei is an outspoken advocate for democracy and artistic freedom in China, where he has spent time in jail and previously been prohibited from leaving his home country by the Chinese government.
“As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe,” Mr Ai said in a second post on Instagram featuring a photo of Lego bricks in a toilet bowl.
“As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalised economy with questionable values.
“Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”
The Lego Group responded to the artists’ claim, in a written statement to the ABC.
Lego’s head of marketing in Australia Troy Taylor said “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”.
The statement said that applied to requests for bulk purchases “where we are made aware that there is a political context, we therefore kindly decline support”.
Lego did not respond to Ai Weiwei’s comment about the company’s expansion in Shanghai.