You can now use LEGO to make a political statement.
LEGO found itself embroiled in controversy last year when the Danish company refused Ai Weiwei’s bulk order on political grounds. The Chinese human rights activist and artist planned to use LEGO to create an artwork about freedom of speech, which was going to be displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia.
In September Lego refused Ai Weiwei Studio's request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as "they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works." On Oct 21, a British firm formally announced that it will open a new Legoland in Shanghai as one of the many deals of the U.K.-China "Golden Era."
"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.
There was widespread backlash to LEGO’s decision, which Ai described as “an act of censorship and discrimination.” As a result of LEGO’s refusal, Ai was inundated by offers of donations of LEGO bricks from all over the world.
The company has now reversed its policy of asking what bulk orders will be used for. LEGO announced it was adjusting its guidelines in a statement posted on its website:
Previously, when asked to sell very large quantities of LEGO bricks for projects, the LEGO Group has asked about the thematic purpose of the project. This has been done, as the purpose of the LEGO Group is to inspire children through creative play, not to actively support or endorse specific agendas of individuals or organizations.
However, those guidelines could result in misunderstandings or be perceived as inconsistent, and the LEGO Group has therefore adjusted the guidelines for sales of LEGO bricks in very large quantities.
LEGO’s new guidelines came into effect as of Jan. 1, 2016. Ai seemed pleased by the U-turn: