The Art of The Art of the Brick at OMSI

If you haven’t been to the LEGO exhibit at OMSI yet, you simply must go. Even if your children are out of town, go. It is, in a word, incredible.

The Art of the Brick features the art (and it is, undeniably, art) of Oregon native Nathan Sawaya. Using nothing but those tiny LEGO blocks, he replicates famous works of art, fossils, and creates his own masterpieces.

The exhibit begins with a three-minute video, in which Sawaya describes his transition from big-law lawyer to LEGO artist. It is a theme of the entire exhibit—reach down for your creativity, find what you love and pursue it. As Sawaya says, “Everything always starts with one brick.” As the video ends, the screen comes up to reveal your first glimpse of his work: a partial fist, a single LEGO contained within it, which we had been watching him create throughout the video.

It only gets better.

From the video, you enter several rooms with replicas of famous works of art. The Mona Lisa, Starry Night, The Scream, Michelangelo, a Terra Cotta warrior, The Kiss.

And by far my favorite of the exhibit, a Moai Easter Island head. Beside each creation is a small placard describing what the LEGO art replicates, and how many bricks it took to do it. (For the Easter Island head: 75,450.)

Original art awaits in the next turn, with some abstract figures. You’ll find someone lifting his head off of his shoulders, musical notes-turned-people, and human-like figures with triangular or square-shaped heads.

The following rooms get a little scary, with some skeletons and one particularly disturbing sculpture of a figure being held back by several sets of arms. It went over the head of my two-year-old, but I could see my four-year-old being a little scared by it.

It’s made up for in the next room: a life-sized dinosaur fossil. To a person, everyone entering said “Whoa!” (80,020 LEGO used for this one.)

You can then head upstairs for the second part of the exhibit. You’ll find photographs incorporating LEGO art, a groovy peace sign, and a massive LEGO pencil, before you reach the end of the exhibit.  

After all this inspiration, including lovely quotes throughout the exhibit, your kids will be so ready to build. You exit through a gift shop into your chance to do just that. There’s a large area filled with small LEGO, and a slightly smaller, more enclosed area for Duplo-sized blocks.

As Sawaya said, “I use LEGO in my art because the toy is accessible. Chances are you probably don’t have a slab or marble or a ceramic kiln at home. But I bet you have some LEGO bricks.” Indeed we do. And I know what we’ll be doing this afternoon.

A few caveats:

Expect a wait. We went on a Friday morning around 10, and waited about ten minutes before getting in. Part of this is due to a logjam created as the next group waits to watch the video.

Be prepared to say “Don’t touch!” oh, a million times. I had visions of my two-year-old destroying nearly every piece in there. If you’re bringing younger kids, you definitely need to stay alert.

There is an extra cost for the exhibit. Member adults will pay an additional $5.50, seniors $4, and children $3.50. Non-members adults will pay $19.50, $15 for seniors, $13.50 for youth. Children under 3 are free.

The Art of the Brick runs through May 29 at OMSI, 1945 SE Water St. Click here for more information.

Ali Wilkinson
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Ali Wilkinson

Online Editor at PDX Parent
Ali Wilkinson is the Online Editor for PDX Parent, and is one of the founders of PDX Kids Calendar. She loves exploring Portland with her three small children, especially when the explorations lead outdoors, to music or to ice cream. You can read more from Ali at www.runknitlove.com.
Ali Wilkinson
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