Lego Admits Refusing to Supply Artist and Activist Ai Weiwei Was a Mistake

The Lego vice-chairman says the decision was taken by a low-level employee.

Ai Weiwei in Lego Room (2015)
Photo: courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

Lego vice-chairman Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen has said that the company’s refusal to supply Ai Weiwei with a bulk order last year was a mistake.

“It was an internal mistake,” Kristiansen told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the decision to refuse the order was taken by a low level employee, who took the company’s policy too literally, and that the board was not involved.

“It is a typical example of what can go wrong in a big company,” said Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, son and successor of Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen.

Last year, the Chinese activist and artist accused the Danish toy company of censorship, after it refused to fill a bulk order by the artist for his exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, posting the following statement via his Instagram account:

“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’.”

In response, thousands of people around the world sent Ai millions of pieces of Lego in order to allow him to complete the work, with collection points set up in globally, including China, Australia, and the UK.

Ai compared the company’s rigid company policy to that of the Chinese government. He accused Lego of refusing to supply him to protect its business interests, as the company was due to open a factory in China in 2017, an accusation that has been denied by Kristiansen.

Thomas Kirk went on to tell WSJ that political neutrality was still of core importance to Lego, although conceded that the company’s refusal to supply the Ai could also be considered a political act.

In January of this year, Lego changed its policy of asking why people were purchasing large amounts of their products before agreeing to supply them.

The only stipulation for those now wishing to create public projects using large amounts of the product will be to make it clear that they have not been endorsed by the Danish company.

Ai told WSJ that he was pleased Lego had changed their company line but added that the change came “a bit too late.”

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