Review of 'The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes'

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In 2014 I was lucky to attend Nathan Sawaya's “Art of the Brick” display when it visited London's Brick Lane. Being a long time fan of the plastic bricks it was amazing to see how the artist and brought real art to the toy. When I heard he was returning with another art exhibit, “The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes” I was not so keen as now it was not his own work but rather he was going a bit more commercial with superheroes. I was pleasantly surprised with yet another amazing exhibit.

“DC Super Heroes” is housed in a large tent behind the National Theatre on the Southbank so is somewhat tricky to find. Tickets can be purchased in advanced but it seems on the day is fine. Tickets on the door are £16.50 for adults, £11 for children (3-16 years old) and £12.50 for concessions (though they have special prices for families and groups as well as various special offers).

On entering the tent and presenting your ticket the first thing you see is a real-size classic Lego joker eating popcorn with an empty chair beside him begging for pictures to be taken…so we obliged.

A short introduction video from Nathan Sawaya explains how he works and a bit about the exhibit. Interesting to hear that actually he was not all that familiar with comics until he started working on this exhibit so went back and research which really shows in the descriptions attached to each display in the exhibit but also in the pieces themselves. As with the original show he continues with very descriptive and personal captions on every piece on display here which also includes the number of Lego bricks that were used in the piece as well as the size of the piece (often both of these being very impressive).

Having been at the original “Art of the Brick” exhibit it was fun to see his trademark piece updated for the superhero theme (“Yellow Vandalized”)…

"Yellow Vandalized"

The tent is quite dark inside with spotlights on each piece (making it ideal for photography, which is permitted) with exhibit as a whole is split into separate thematic sections.

The Origins

The first section of the exhibit features several of Sawaya's favourite characters including the Flash and Green Lantern. Here we see classic poses of these characters but with an artist's touch such as the “speed lines” of flash (“Flash Forward”)…

Flash Forward

A more dark and troubling piece was “Cyborg Origin” showing the superhero only half built after his terrible accident. This piece reminded me of many of Sawaya's non-superhero works.

World of DC Superheroes

An introduction to many of the DC superheroes with pieces depicting each character, about two feet high, arranged in niches in a circular wall with two classic comic-book covers brought to life in the middle. “Action Comics No. 1”, where DC really began and the first appearance of Superman…

Action Comics No. 1

And a more unusual “The Brave and the Bold No. 28”…

The Brave and the Bold No. 28

Each of these larger pieces was accompanied by copies of the original comic so you could compare his three-dimensional piece with the original two-dimensional version.

I was not aware of many of the characters so learned a lot here. Sawaya has indeed done his homework.

The Icons

It was nice to see extrapolation very much a part of this exhibit and this was the first section where it was obvious with Sawaya depicting the heroes in single colours and in dynamic poses. Particularly powerful to me was the depictions of Batman (“Batman: Dark Grey”)…

Batman: Dark Grey

…and Superman (“Superman: Blue”)…

Superman: Blue

In this case the write-up was very interesting as Sawaya explains the amount of work it took to build the cape and make it look realistic. The amount of effort he has put into the exhibits is incredible.

Fortress of Solitude

Featuring Superman this section has superman flying straight at you as you enter (“Soaring”)…

Soaring

But again, Sawaya goes beyond the hero to create some interesting pieces of real art. Such as “Pushing” where we see Superman struggling against an obstacle that he himself has created…

Pushing

…and “Angel” where Superman is depicted as angelic, which he is, in saving others selflessly…

Angel

Constructing a Hero

This was the most abstract of all of the exhibit's sections and the coolest looking. It took the traditional depictions of common heroes then abstracted them into coloured box shapes.

Superman Cubed

The end of this section has what I would have thought should have been the end of the exhibit (and probably was in other cities and according to the catalogue) with two pieces: “Hero Within” depicting an ordinary boy with a multi-coloured cape that suggests that anyone can be a hero and “What Kind of Hero Will you Be?” which is a series of small rectangular mirrors arranged in an abstract pattern.

What Kind of Hero Will you Be?

There is real meaning here.

Themyscira

Yeah, I didn't either: “Themyscira” is where Wonder-Man comes from and this small section of the exhibit featured her world and included quite an amazing looking representation of her “invisible” jet.

Invisible Jet

DC Light

A bit of the lighter side of superheros including Aquaman in a bath (“Splish Splash”)…

Splish Splash

…and “Aqaupus”…

Aquapus

…and “Oswald Cobblepot” (the “Penguin”)…

Oswald Cobblepot

It also had a neat exhibit where Sawaya attempts to “draw” batman in Lego (“The Drawn Knight”).

The Drawn Knight

DC Dark

After the light we move onto the dark with some of the iconic villains including the joker (“The Joker Facemask”)…

The Joker Facemask

…and Catwoman (“Perched”)…

Perched

A series of skulls of various villains is also here which is more than a bit odd but compelling.

One wall here has another comic-book cover converted into Lego and that is of “The Killing Joke” (“The Killing Joke Cover”). Vivid and amazing this section manages to capture the colourful, flamboyant yet sinister bad-guys that the heroes often face.

Hall of Justice

This section features busts of all of the heroes from the “Hall of Justice” comics as well as iconic comic-book covers that each features in.

"Superman Bust", "Superman Cover" and "Batman Cover"

This is where many comicbook fans will get an immediate attachment to the displays and is perhaps the most commercial of all of the displays here. The over-sized busts are incredibly accurate and really bring the characters to life.

Gotham City

The final two sections of the exhibit are devoted to Batman with the first some pieces depicting the character as a flawed hero. In “The Darkest Knight” Sawaya seeks to capture the “spiritual shadow” of the character, making him incredibly menacing and dark, looming over you.

The Darkest Knight

In the abstract “Building Batman” we see Batman literally building himself out of brick much like the character does in the comics.

Building Batman

A colourful collection of Batman cowls (“Cowl Collection”) arranged in a row rounds off this section.

Cowl Collection

Batcave

This final section is certainly impressive as it features a pretty much full-sized recreation of the modern film version of the “Batmobile” but i found it not as artistically appealing as other exhibits here.

Batmobile

So, for me, a slightly down-beat climax to the exhibit.

At the end of the exhibit there is, of course, a shop featuring lots of Lego as well as several bins where you can have a go at making something yourself.

A small cafe also serves drinks and light snacks.

I found this exhibit very well done with some impressive pieces that although depict these traditional superhero characters Sawaya has managed to put his own personal stamp on. Not only in coming up with abstractions based on these characters but also getting into their essence and soul.

For the most part children brought to the show appeared to be generally bored quickly moving from room to room preferring instead to have a go with the Lego at the end. Some of the exhibit appealed to them but there is much here that most children would find boring. I would suggest people visiting with children let them do their thing and you try to appreciate the art on display here as it really is that. Sawaya has a lot of interesting things to say even if often it seems a bit trite.

I would recommend this exhibit to any fan of Lego, Nathan Sawaya or, indeed, anyone interested in modern, pop art.

Rating:

Review Date: 2017-07-30



Temporary Venue - Southbank

Location: London (England)

Address: Corner of Upper Ground and Cornwall Rd, London SE1 9PP ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Waterloo

URL:

A temporary tent housing “The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes” exhibit, located on the street behind the National Theatre. There are toilets inside the exhibition area and there is also a shop selling, you guessed it, Lego (though, oddly, no comic-books).