Ai Weiwei Has Recreated Claude Monet’s Iconic ‘Water Lilies’ Using 650,000 Multi-Colored Lego Bricks

The artist has updated the famous work to include a "dark portal" into his childhood bedroom.

Ai Weiwei, Water Lilies #1 (2022) made from Lego bricks. Photo: © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio; courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua.

You can construct whole worlds using the building blocks of Lego, but Ai Weiwei has taken things to another level by recreating Monet’s monumental triptych Water Lilies (1914–26). The mammoth undertaking has gone on display at the Design Museum in London ahead of a major new survey opening next month.

One of the French Impressionist’s most famous paintings, which is currently on display at MoMA, the original work depicts the lily ponds at Monet’s beloved gardens in Giverny near Paris, an idyllic scene hazily rendered by his characteristic bold brushstrokes.

In the new medium of Lego, however, it took 650,000 bricks in 22 colors to make, reaching nearly 50 feet in length.

Detail from Ai Weiwei, Water Lilies #1 (2022), made from Lego bricks. Photo: © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio; courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua.

The result is what the museum calls “a depersonalized language of industrial parts and colors,” with the Lego more suggestive of the pixels through which we often engage with art today, whether the work is natively digital or a photograph shared online.

The artist has added his own touch to the centuries-old composition, inserting a “dark portal” to the right-hand side that leads to the underground dugout that Ai shared with his father while their family was exiled to Xinjiang during the 1960s.

“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,” said Ai Weiwei in a statement. “Without a personal narrative, artistic narration loses its quality.”

Detail from Ai Weiwei, Water Lilies #1 (2022), made from Lego bricks. Photo: © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio; courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua.

Detail from Ai Weiwei, Water Lilies #1 (2022), made from Lego bricks. Photo: © Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio; courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua.

“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,” he added.

The show will also include Ai’s Untitled (Lego Incident), another new work taking the form of a “field” on the floor made from Lego bricks given to the artist by fans around the world after he posted on Instagram that Lego had temporarily refused to stop letting him bulk order their products to make political artworks. Ai believed the Danish company was hoping to protect its business interests in China, but his post resulted in an international outcry and the toymaker changed its policy.

Ai Weiwei: Making Sense” is the first exhibition dedicated to Ai’s focus on design and architecture specifically. It opens at the Design Museum in London on April 7 with some of the artist’s best known works alongside a series of five new “fields” filled with objects that he has made or collected. It runs until July 30.


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