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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei accuses Lego of denying ‘creativity and freedom’

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Ai Weiwei, a Chinese contemporary artist and outspoken dissident, spoke to CNN's Ivan Watson on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, shortly after receiving his passport from the Chinese government.

NEW YORK — Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says Lego refused to sell him toy bricks for his artwork, calling it an attempt to deny “creativity and freedom of speech.”

Ai — known for critiquing censorship by the Chinese government — said he intended to use Legos for a piece destined for an Australian exhibition in December.

In an Instagram post on Saturday, Ai wrote that Lego sent an email in September saying, “We are not in a position to support the exhibition … by supplying the bulk order.”

"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.

A post shared by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

Lego spokesperson Roar Rude Trangbaek declined to comment on Ai’s case, but 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.”

Trangbaek added that the company denies “donations or support for projects — such as the possibility of purchasing Lego bricks in very large quantities, which is not possible through normal sales channels — where we are made aware that there is a political context.”

Ai claimed that Lego acted with its own political motivations. He pointed to plans to build a Legoland in Shanghai announced last week.

“Denying creativity and freedom of speech is a crime. @LEGO_Group have played their part in this unforgivable act,” the artist posted on Twitter Sunday.

He posted photographs of Legos in a toilet bowl on Instagram over the weekend. One caption reads, “Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”

"Everything is awesome "

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Ai used Legos for a piece presented in the U.S. last year. It included 176 portraits of people imprisoned or exiled “for their beliefs or affiliations,” including 38 Chinese activists.

Supporters flooded social media with offers to contribute their Lego collections to supply his new project. On Sunday, Ai promised to “find a way to accept” donations.

Ai planned to include the piece at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia — where work by Ai and Andy Warhol is set to be exhibited starting December 11.

The museum called it a “major international exhibition featuring two of the most significant artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”