"You can churn around in the drawer and pull out what catches your eye, bits and pieces drawn from movies and history and your own fancy, and make something new, something no one has ever seen or imagined before." So writes Michael Chabon in "To the Legoland Station," his essay on the generation-spanning appeal of Legos; if another Pulitzer Prize-winning author has written as passionate a piece about little Scandinavian plastic bricks, I haven't read it. (Cormac McCarthy's piece about pogs, devastating as it is, doesn't count.)
OMSI's The Art of the Brick gives one as good an excuse as any to wax philosophic about Legos. Featuring the work of sculptor Nathan Sawaya, The Art of the Brick is laid out in two halves: In the first, Sawaya's sculptures are arranged as if in a gallery; in the second, Lego works from local hobbyists (like the guy who puts the Star Wars Legos in the window of the light bulb store on Mississippi!) stand next to stations where kids can build their own sculptures and put 'em on display.
Sawaya's creations are striking: Aside from the fact that their subject matter would seem more at home on a coffee shop's walls than in a museum (a piece titled "Self" is a miserable-looking man of gray bricks; poking out from his suit is a bright red figure with a curious look on his blocky face), it's Sawaya's craftsmanship that impresses. A castle rises from the pages of a storybook; a kneeling boy considers his reflection in a puddle; pixilated abstracts resolve themselves, with distance, into massive portraits. Lego humanoids build themselves, kiss, and despair; it's hard to not gawp at the scale of Sawaya's sculptures and the painstaking process by which they were assembled.
Yet I got a bigger kick out of the second part of the exhibit—where a small army of screeching urchins had built all sorts of inventive Lego crap, from the self-explanatory "Exploding Building" (by Jackson, age 9) to the suspiciously precocious "Untitled No. 1," by a little snot named Dylan (age: "9 2/3"). Those kids knew even better than Sawaya what Legos are good for: They clicked Legos together, pried them apart, and proudly showed off their cubist clumps of weird. All of them knowing, I think, that unlike Sawaya's meticulously glued-together creations, theirs would be broken apart and forgotten, their pieces tossed back into a drawer, waiting to be rebuilt into something entirely different.