Artist Ai Weiwei Has Recreated A Monet Masterpiece With A Massive Lego Artwork

Ahead of Ai Weiwei’s largest UK exhibition in eight years, at the Design Museum, an incredible new piece has been unveiled from the artist. Made entirely out of Lego, Water Lilies #1 is an immense recreation of Monet’s famed Water Lilies (1914 — 26). It’s also the largest Lego artwork that Ai Weiwei has ever made.

The work is so huge, in fact, that it takes up fifteen metres of wall space, spanning the entire length of one of the walls in the Design Museum gallery. It’s comprised of almost 650,000 studs of Lego bricks, with 22 colours bringing the impressionist masterpiece to Lego-bricked life. And it goes on display to the public on April 7, when the Ai Weiwei: Making Sense exhibition opens at the Design Museum.

a close-up of the individual Lego bits in a Lego painting from Ai Weiwei
Detail from Water Lilies #1, 2022, by Ai Weiwei. Lego bricks. Photo © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio. © Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua

The two Water Lilies

The original work from Monet, which is currently in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, became famous for its depiction of a beautiful, tranquil, lily pond in the garden of the artist’s home. Its representation of nature has resonated with anyone able to take in the immense triptych’s brushstrokes and colours. It’s also, arguably, the first painting that comes to mind for many when Monet is mentioned.

a visitor walking past the three panels of Monet's Water Lilies at MoMA
Claude Monet. Water Lilies. 1914–26. Oil on canvas, three panels, each 6′ 6 3/4″ × 13′ 11 1/4″
(200 × 424.8 cm), overall 6′ 6 3/4″ × 41′ 10 3/8″ (200 × 1276 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund
Photograph by Kurt Heumiller.

However, the lily pond was man-made, disrupting a nearby river in its creation. Weiwei’s usage of Lego bricks in his reproduction adds a layer of unnatural, and industrial, sheen to the work. One that reflects the history behind the original image, and its man-made source material. Impersonal pixel-like blocks replace Monet’s brushstrokes, contrasting the nature scene and referencing the increasingly digital distribution of art.

Punctuating the recreation is a dark portal on the right-hand side of the Lego painting. This portal represents the door to the underground dugout in Xinjiang province where Ai and his father, Ai Qing, lived in forced exile in the 1960s. It’s yet another contrast to the original work’s tranquillity.

a shot of the dark portal hidden in ai weiwei's new Water Lilies #1 art work
Detail from Water Lilies #1, 2022, by Ai Weiwei. Lego bricks. Photo © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio. © Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua

Said Ai Weiwei:

“Our world is complex and collapsing towards an unpredictable future. It’s crucial for individuals to find a personalized language to express their experience of these challenging conditions. Personalized expression arises from identifying with history and memories while creating a new language and narrative. Without a personal narrative, artistic narration loses its quality. In Water Lilies #1 I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me into a digitized and pixelated language. Toy bricks as the material, with their qualities of solidity and potential for deconstruction, reflect the attributes of language in our rapidly developing era where human consciousness is constantly dividing.”

the entirety of the Ai Weiwei lego painting, hung on a white wall
Water Lilies #1, 2022, by Ai Weiwei. Lego bricks. Photo © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio. © Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua

Ai Weiwei: Making Sense

Making Sense is Ai Weiwei’s first design-focused exhibition, and will also be the artist’s biggest UK show in eight years. It will speak to the artist’s history of engaging with material culture, often through using, or reimagining, seemingly ordinary objects from our everyday lives. The exhibition will feature recent works and wholly new pieces commissioned for the exhibition.

a seemingly ordinary takeout box and pair of chopsticks that are actually carved out of marble
Ai Weiwei, Marble Takeout Box, 2015 . © Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Alongside Water Lilies #1 will be another new work, Untitled (Lego Incident). This piece presents the many hundreds of Lego pieces that were donated to Ai Weiwei in the wake of a 2014 incident where Lego briefly refused to sell their products to him. Up until then Weiwei had been using Lego to create portraits of political prisoners. Untitled (Lego Incident) is the first time the donations will be presented as a fully realized artwork.

There will also be plenty more works from Ai Weiwei, ranging from a Han dynasty urn emblazoned with a Coca-Cola logo, to a worker’s hard hat cast in glass, and beyond. For the financially strapped, you won’t even need to enter the exhibition, or pay for a ticket, to see some of the works! Large scale pieces will be installed in the museum’s free-to-enter spaces and outside the building itself.

a section of flooring covered in lego pieces
Untitled (LEGO Incident) . © Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Tickets are available to pre-book for the exhibition here. Members can get access to the exhibition for free, while Adult tickets cost £15, and Child tickets cost £7.50.

Ai Weiwei: Making Sense will run at the Design Museum from April 7 until July 30, 2023. The Design Museum is at 224-238 Kensington High Street, W8 6AG. The nearest station is High Street Kensington.