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A Van Gogh of Legos brings 'Art of the Brick' to Museum of Science

Coloring books for adults came back.

Could Legos be next?

They just might if enough grown-ups trek to the Buffalo Museum of Science to see "The Art of the Brick."

The exhibit by Nathan Sawaya opens Saturday and runs through May 5, offering a new world of possibilities for the little plastic bricks. Among the creations: an 80,020-piece, 20-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex and "Yellow," a human form with bricks pouring out from its chest.

Most of the projects list the number of Legos used. So go ahead and guess! You can see how close you were.

"I was familiar with the exhibit from its stay in other cities, and I knew that it had really been a crowd favorite," said Marisa Wigglesworth, the museum's president and CEO.

"Kids who are playing with Lego bricks today are really going to see things they have not seen before, and perhaps be inspired to think about how they engage with Legos in a new way," Wigglesworth said. "At the same time, adults will be fascinated by it."

Buffalo Museum of Science president and CEO Marisa Wigglesworth sits next to a life-sized figure made of Lego blocks. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The novelty of Legos as pop art begins after stepping into the second-floor exhibit. Visitors are met by Sawaya's recreations of master paintings and sculptures. His own imaginative and often whimsical works appear next, followed by photo realism collaborations made with photographer Dean West.

"Most kids, even at a very young age, have had some kind of snap-together engineering kind of product," said David Cinquino, the museum's director of exhibits. "It's actually cool if Lego introduces them to the world of art."

Wigglesworth chuckled at the notion of kids identifying more with the Lego version than the original: "I saw the real one at the Buffalo Museum of Science," she imagined a child saying.

Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss," Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," Michelangelo's "David" and Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" are among Sawaya's recreations. A video comparing the originals with the Lego interpretations shows how faithful Sawaya tried to be in reproducing details.

Some of Sawaya's original creations bring surprising emotions, such as "Untitled: Despair," in which a gray human form's eyes are covered by hands, and "Trapped," where a body from the torso up looks outward while contained inside a gray box.

In another sculpture, two figures, one black and the other white, stand back to back with the inscription, "If you're only seeing the world in black and white, you're probably missing the many shades of gray."

Among the creations: A large red ball and three gray jacks, a baseball player made from multicolored bricks, and a giant pencil writing "Fun" on a tablet of white Legos in what is made to look like black ink.

Scattered on the walls are quotes from Sawaya on the power of art.

"Art nurtures the brain, whether made from clay, paint, wood or a modern-day toy," said one.

"Create what you see, create what you feel, create what you have never seen. Just create," read another.

There are two short films on Sawaya, one about the New York University graduate and former corporate attorney and the other on his multimedia collaboration with Dean West.

The hyper-stylized photography uses desolate desert scenes in the seven framed artworks that wouldn't be out of place in an art museum.

Nearby are Sawaya's Lego sculptures, which were photoshopped and manipulated for the photographic images.

"My Boy" is a life-sized sculpture on display in "The Art of the Brick." (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Brown and gray Lego railroad tracks are in "Railroad," with Sawaya among those waiting for a train. "Bus" features a woman with a Lego dog on a long leash at a bus stop. In "Flip Flops," a pair of flip flops and a red towel with a cream-colored stripe, made from Legos, are in the background as a man prepares to go into a swimming pool.

The exhibit closes with nine Lego play stations, allowing kids to unleash their own inner creativity.

There's also a bench with a 21,054-piece human figure to pose for pictures with.

"The Art of the Brick" is a separate admission event. Adult admission is $18, $15 for children and seniors, and $5 for museum members.

It's a timed event, with no more than 60 people allowed entrance every 15 minutes to avoid overcrowding, although once inside visitors can stay as long as they want.

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