Artist's Essay: The Lego Classicists Exhibit

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THE BRITISH SCHOOL AT ATHENS PANTHEON: A LEGO CLASSICISTS EXHIBITION

 by Liam D. Jensen BSA Virtual Artist in Residence, 2022

 

 

 

ARTIST’S ESSAY

 

Liam D. Jensen, “The Lego Classicist”

September, 2022

 

 

The joy of designing a LEGO minifigure comes from refining the character down to its purest essence, so its identity and personality is instantly recognizable, while still respecting the classic color palette and clean  design style of LEGO toys.

 

Tara Wike, Senior Design Manager, The LEGO Group[1]

 

Exhibition Overview

 

This exhibition tells the story of the history of the British School at Athens and the Lego Classicist’s relationship with it. Through a Pantheon of twelve individuals, it attempts to reflect the lives and personalities of key identities in the School’s development seen through the Playful and ironic lens of Lego Classicists pop art portraits in LEGO. [2] Lego Classicists portraits attempt to reflect the original pared-down essence of the LEGO minifigure,[3] while also reflecting the personal style and work of their subjects. As someone with Danish heritage, I am intrinsically attracted to the considerable paradoxical sophistication and philosophy of design that LEGO represents.[4] By using the LEGO minifigure as an artistic medium, I am able through Lego Classicists and the pop art genre, to present complex meaning in apparently simple form, and thereby attempt to pose questions and invite thinking about social, cultural, historical and philosophical themes.

 

This exhibition was originally planned as the culmination of an in-person BSA Artist in Residency in Athens in 2020, to coincide with the 5th anniversary of Lego Classicists in early 2021. However, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was postponed. With the on-going nature of the pandemic and the continued danger of travel, and following my unexpected emergency heart surgery, the then

Director and I organised a Virtual Artist in Residency instead, which is the first for the School.[5]

 

A place like the British School at Athens can seem like it has been there forever, since from the late 19th century, generations of students have grown up being in awe of it and generations of the world’s most respected and important scholars have researched, lived and written there, and used it as a base for archaeological excavation, scientific testing and research. At the foot of Lycabettus Hill in Athens, the School has elegant buildings and gardens and is built on land given to it by the Greek government where it has operated for well over 100 years, holding garden parties, hosting royal visits and being associated with world-leading scholars.[6] But the history of the British School at Athens is the story of people, individuals who have built the tapestry of the School’s reality on hardship, austerity, adventurous spirit, dedication to their disciplines, scholarship and learning, and to their shared love and passion for Greece. 

 

Many of the people in the history of the British School at Athens might seem remote or unreachable, like Albert, the Prince of Wales or Sir Arthur Evans, the excavator of Knossos, but this exhibition aims to tell a human story, to express the underlying and shared humanity in all of them and to show and celebrate something of the combination of their lives that formed the rich history and reality of the School. Greece has always been built on blood, sweat, celebration and joy, and so has the British School at Athens been built. 

 

The subjects of this exhibition were chosen for their representation of a bigger picture. They were chosen to represent the span of time and the variety of characters who make up the School’s story and to celebrate that story. They are also chosen to be reflective of the development of the School and the times in which it developed: women were not at first admitted as students and the School didn’t have its first female Director until the late 20th century; although people had been agitating for setting up the School for some time, it took a prince’s involvement to set the ball rolling; and although Britain is ethnically diverse, even today most students, scholars and administrators of the School are clearly “anglo”. Therefore this exhibition both celebrates and asks us to reflect.

 

Very many important people have necessarily been left out of this visual survey and their stories too are just as important to the fabric of the whole: everyone associated with the British School at Athens has an interesting story to tell and important work to add to scholarship, art or the life of the School and its contribution to international scholarship. Some of the subjects of this exhibition are women, many are men, some were outgoing adventurers, some were quiet, shy and steady, some came from ordinary, everyday backgrounds and some were royal or privileged. All of them played a role in the development of the School and its life, and they’ve been chosen for the combination and diversity they represent when their stories are presented together as a group. 

 

The people this exhibition represents were adventurers, artists, writers and sports-people, soldiers, freedom fighters and spies, as well as scholars. The first Director, Francis Penrose, from a liberal and creative family background was a gifted rower who was kidnapped by bandits on one of his earliest trips to Greece, and he brought up a daughter who was a leading light in women’s university education.[7] John Pendlebury, who could never decide whether he loved Greek or Egyptian archaeology the best and who never wanted to settle in one place, was an athlete and English intelligence officer who fought and died in the Battle of Crete organizing Cretan resistance to the German invasion.[8] Jane Rabnett spent World War II supporting soldiers in Britain then making sense of her returned gunner-pilot husband’s institutionalised post-traumatic stress by moving permanently to Athens from where she travelled Greece and turned her Naxos home into a permanent haven for artists, writers and scholars.[9] And Humfry Payne, married to the writer Dilys Powell who became an unofficial biographer of the School, was a restless, driven and creative adventurer, artist and scholar who became Director in his 20s and accidentally lost his life in office. Sir Arthur Evans, heart-broken after the death of his wife, dedicated not only his life’s work to Cretan archaeology, but extensively excavated Knossos and found early evidence of Linear A and Linear B script, bought the land on which Knossos stands and donated it to the BSA, beginning the continuing relationship with Knossos and the School and establishing the Knossos curatorship.

 

The skeleton, standard “official” histories of these people, which record their scholastic and cultural achievements, don’t necessarily tell the stories of, or do justice to, their personalities and characters, which show individual traits, strengths and weaknesses that above all make them human, flesh and blood real people. This diverse group of people represents a tip of the iceberg of the rich mix of individuals, dedicated pursuit, adventures and hardships that combine to form the history of the British School at Athens, which itself has survived through wars, dictatorship, famine, fires and pandemic.

 

In determining how to tell the story of the British School at Athens and which individual subjects to choose in order to tell it, my artistic approach as the Lego Classicist has been entirely personal and idiosyncratic. 

 

After consultation and collaboration with the British School at Athens through its Director John Bennet and Archivist Amalia Kakissis, my method was to choose subjects to include in the exhibition on the basis of the effect of their lives and stories on me as the artist. With so many extraordinary people to choose from, and as is the case with the pared-down simplicity of pop art and poetry, the artistic process ultimately comes down to “gut feeling” and what is left out is as important as what is left in - what is said visually articulates and represents everything that is not said. Prof. Bennet and I collaborated on choosing individuals who were on a long “consideration list” and I then pared down the list through a process of incubation and feeling. It is important to my process that I am not exposed to or saturated with too much historical information at this stage, since detailed data will hamper my ability to engage emotionally and artistically with the subjects and how they fit together as representatives who tell a bigger story. The artistic process for this project therefore involved collaboration and research, and long periods of incubation in which the players in the story took shape as individuals who became a collective whole that linked together, seen through the eyes of the Lego Classicist.  

 

Each LEGO portrait in the exhibition is accompanied by a short biography and an artist’s note, and the information was gleaned from a variety of sources including the 1986 Helen Waterhouse history of the School, The British School at Athens: The First Hundred Years, the books of Dilys Powell, the BSA website and You Tube channel and the internet generally. Those familiar with Lego Classicists might notice that in this BSA Pantheon, costumes are not as brightly coloured as they often are, and this is because costumes from the times most of these individuals came were made with natural muted pigments but more importantly, I wanted to depict the solemnity and seriousness of their important work.

 

It might also be noticed that in this Pantheon, men outnumber women, and while this also reflects the times, it should also be noted that many women get lost in history through their association with men, especially as academic women often marry academic men and their own scholastic work can be consequently glossed over. It is for this reason that the wives, mothers, daughters and relations of many of the male subjects of this exhibition have been included in the biographies, like Hilda White and Helen Pence, who as archaeologists themselves, excavated along with their husbands John Pendlebury and Alan Wace, and Deborah Harlan who painstakingly researched the BSA archive while her husband John Bennet was Director.

 

I am extremely grateful to the British School at Athens for allowing me the wonderful opportunity through this 9-month long Virtual Artist in Residency that has enabled me to explore the School’s colourful and inspiring history through Lego Classicists, which I have enjoyed very much. I have especially enjoyed the interesting collaboration process with the School’s Director Prof. John Bennet, Archivist, Amalia Kakissis, who patiently and kindly searched the BSA archive, and Assistant Director, Michael Loy. I am also greatly indebted for the generosity of the sponsors of this exhibition, especially Small Rig, Stevie English Hair, The Lynette Jensen Collection and Genesys Australia and my wonderful Patreon supporters (AKA The Lego Classicists Community). All the portraits in this exhibition will be given to the School.

 

By using the medium of LEGO – accessible, reductive and joyful – this exhibition celebrates the common humanity of the people who built, and continue to build, the British School at Athens, a place of connection, dedication and celebration of scholarship and of Greece itself.

             

The Development of Lego Classicists

 

Lego Classicists developed almost accidentally in 2016 when I made the first two figures as ironic gifts to two classical scholars who were friends. They were largely inspired by Michael Turner’s The Lego Acropolis, which as Senior Curator of the University of Sydney’s then Nicholson Museum, he had devised for display in the Museum and commissioned for building by the Australian LEGO builder, Ryan McNaught.[10] This model is now on permanent display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.[11] These two original figures received so much attention from my friends and their students, and seemed to resonate with them so much, that I began to think that I had created something more than I could have expected. From the outset, the figures of classicists aimed to be ironic but engaging, and to tell the stories of the work of the academics they depicted. Gradually, the Lego Classicists family grew to include classics scholars and others whose work related to the ancient world from around the globe. Lego Classicists now operates on three social media platforms and has a dedicated website.[12]

 

Through the accessibility of the Lego Classicists portraits and the resonance they seem to create, I have been able to simultaneously point out and honour the work of individuals, increase accessibility of ancient world themes to a wider audience and to quietly draw attention to underlying social, cultural and philosophical considerations and issues.

 

The British School at Athens has played an important part in the development of my work with Lego Classicists, especially through my interactions with Prof. John Bennet who has consistently supported and encouraged the work and who has been a great inspiration. It was Prof. Bennet who helped coin the Lego Classicists’ motto “To do History is to Play” (ἱστορεῖν παίζειν).[13] I have been honoured to have been included as I have in the life of the School and I look forward very much to a long and continued relationship with the BSA through its new Director, Prof. Rebecca Sweetman and with Michael Loy and Amalia Kakissis, and of course with Prof. Bennet himself.

 

Throughout the time I have had a relationship with the School, both personally through my work as an archivist and through Lego Classicists, my respect for the work of the British School at Athens and its role and history has continued to grow.

 

             

Pop Art

 

Pop Art is a perhaps surprisingly sophisticated genre of fine art. It uses images and iconography of pop culture and everyday objects to beguile the viewer, just as advertising does, into a false sense of security.[14] Because pop art images are usually simplified and brightly coloured and their subjects are instantly recognisable, they are accessible and engaging in a way that immediately attracts the eye.

The effect is that pop art has an instant appeal to a wide and diverse audience.

 

However, once our eye has been attracted and we are lulled into thinking we understand what appears to be a simple message, we are tricked into questioning much about society, culture and ourselves. The prime function of pop art seems to be social reflection and critique following instant attraction.

 

Perhaps the most famous pop artist was Andy Warhol, who appropriated advertising images that were often identical to the products they portrayed, like the Campbell’s Soup series or his Brillo Box series, but which make us question the nature of art and society and which respond to a post World War II environment of advertising, consumerism, youth culture, energy and optimism. Roy Lichtenstein drew inspiration chiefly from comic books and pulp fiction and his work is ironic and perceptive, finding nuance and meaning in the unexpected hiding in full view, by honing in on cultural iconographic symbols and twisting them, investing them with poignancy, mystery and complexity.

 

Pop art as a movement developed in the 1950s following the years of deprivation and hardship caused by the Depression and World War II, and partially grew out of the Dada movement, and the intellectual, brightly coloured hard-edge work of Piet Mondrian which preceded it. It emerged in a number of Western countries but had its early roots in the United Kingdom through artists like Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton. The industry of advertising itself chiefly developed in the 20th century through developments in technology of affordable colour printing like silk-screen printing and lithography, the portable camera, radio broadcasting, film and the motion picture, television and later the internet. Growing in tandem with the technological developments that gave birth to mass advertising was the easy identification and engagement with “celebrities” like movie stars, royals and the rich, who were seen widely in magazines, newspapers, on television and at the cinema. The development of rock music and the youth counter culture movement of the 1960s also led to a heightened interest in record cover design and alternative and student magazines and political posters, exemplified by the work of Australian artist, Martin Sharp.[15] Mass media, advertising, and social change therefore provided inspiration, the medium, the means and the language for artists to respond to their cultural experiences of the life that surrounded them. 

 

Pop artists appropriated the visual language and imagery of widely accessible popular culture to respond to and critique it. 

 

Using LEGO as a Medium

 

It was inevitable that artists would begin to use LEGO as a medium for their work, for reasons including its familiarity, its durability and its versatility. Artists have always appropriated any medium at hand for their artistic purpose and expression and the LEGO brick, designed as a children’s toy in 1949, is no exception.[16] 

 

The nature of the LEGO brick itself is reflective of many elements of traditional and modern pop art: it is brightly coloured, hard-edged, simple, pared-down, light and portable and it is reminiscent of mosaics in many cultures and closely related to and developed from the basic building block, the most ancient of toys and building materials. Crucially, the LEGO brick is plastic, which makes it light and durable, but also makes it problematic and controversial in a world where the longevity of the natural environment is of growing concern.

 

LEGO is an ideal art medium then, because of its paradoxical approachability and controversy. Its use in art immediately sets up a contradiction between the simple and innocent and the complex and sophisticated. A variety of modern artists across the world are using LEGO as a medium for their art practice. These include Nathan Sawaya,[17] the United States artist who creates profound and deeply moving and complex sculptures and installations, the Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei who exploits the deceptively approachable and cheerful nature of LEGO to draw attention to serious issues of humanity,[18] and the Italian oil painter Stephano Bolcato who juxtaposes LEGO figures with the subjects of the traditional Western painting canon that makes us question both art and our perception of ourselves.[19]

 

Not all of the artists working with LEGO are pop artists, but working with the medium supplies an automatic contradiction and therefore complexity, as the viewer is automatically conflicted between being attracted to its child-like innocence and association, and being confused and confronted by its apparent over-simplification. This creates an intellectual dilemma that questions whether it can be art if its LEGO, if it can be dismissed, if it can be complex and meaningful if it seems at first simple. LEGO is therefore an ideal medium for its use in pop art which exploits all of this attraction, conflict, paradox and therefore intellectual sophistication. 

 

To add to the complexity is the fact that not only is LEGO a toy, but since the late 20th century it has been adopted by adult hobbyists and model-makers, who in some cases call themselves “LEGO artists”. Thus, comparing the work of these “builders” to artists who use the medium for their art practice makes the picture even more complex and therefore intellectually interesting and nuanced. Likening the work of an artist who uses LEGO to the work of a LEGO model-maker is like comparing Warhol’s Brillo Box to a real Brillo box – on the surface they look identical and yet they are worlds apart.[20]  An example of this in LEGO is the Lego Medici Venus, commissioned by the University of Sydney and made by a LEGO model-maker Ryan McNaught (“The Brickman”) and the classical sculptures including the Venus de Milo by the artist Nathan Sawaya.[21] The underlying reason for the creation of these LEGO sculptures is expressed and felt in their ultimate execution, the former being an intellectually interesting and witty exercise by the University, and the second, a heart-felt and empathetic transposing of medium by an artist that results in a powerful and poignant expression of love and historical continuity.

 

This difference is at the heart of the American art and philosophy scholar Arthur Danto’s work, who realised that Warhol’s Brillo Box blew apart traditional Western understanding of art and aesthetics and gave rise to a new philosophical exploration of the essential nature of aesthetics and beauty.22

 

The Minifigure

 

The LEGO minifigure was introduced in 1975, and it was designed to represent a universal human being.[22] Its pared down simplification aimed to transcend gender, race and age while expressing essential and universally recognisable human characteristics. Its introduction played an important social role in providing male children with the ability to engage with dolls in a way that hadn’t been historically available to them very much before (in Western culture male children had been allowed to play with dolls in a very limited way through toy soldiers and action figures but these were quite limited to war-like, gender-stereotyping archetypes), and gave female children cultural permission to engage more fully with construction, logic and engineering. The result was that children from any culture could not only create buildings and structures but they could play imaginatively with them, inventing narratives and scenarios allowing them to engage with and relate the figures to themselves across cultural boundaries. Like poetry, the design of the LEGO humanoid figure was pared down to its essence: a simplified gender-neutral face and three main pieces that represented the head, torso and legs. Because LEGO then used only the primary colours blue, red and yellow (the secondary colour green was used for base-plates and vegetation and black and white which are colour neutral, were used as adjunct pieces), all minifigures were universally yellow.

 

The design of the minifigure has changed and developed (and sometimes regressed) over the years, and although it has moved away from its original universal presentation, it is still fundamentally a simplified expression of the human condition. Although in time the yellow colour of the figures was no longer perceived as universal and culturally appropriate (yellow being associated by some with racial “whiteness”) and various skin tones were added and gender differentiation (stereotyped “female” characterisics like eye-lashes and lipstick) appeared along with more varied facial expressions, the LEGO figure is none-the-less still an expression of all of us.[23]

 

The LEGO minifigure is a small, engaging, approachable and easily identifiable plastic symbol of Everyman.[24] It is the LEGO minifigure that is explored and interpreted for its symbolic representation of universal humanity in the oil paintings of Stephano Bolcato and the sculptural portraits of the “Lego Classicist”.  

 

Lego Classicists Portraits

 

Essential to most pop art is its irony and its ability to instantly attract and then almost instantly to subvert and critique. By presenting subject matter in an apparently simple and approachable way, it creates a captive audience that responds almost immediately to the visual stimulus that seems at first understood and approachable, but turns out to be something else entirely.

 

In recent times, the discipline of classics has come under increasingly wide criticism for perceived elitism and exclusivity from within and outside the discipline. Classics can be seen to be a discipline that both imposes certain socio-cultural positions and expectations and perpetuates them, like excluding certain nationalities, races, social class, gender and abilities and teaching either directly or indirectly a cultural philosophy of the “superiority” of the classical canon and its historical effect on world culture.

 

Lego Classicists portraits aim to address this perception. As pop art, Lego Classicist portraits are ironic, nuanced and complex, being at once a heart-felt homage to the individuals they portray, a reference to childhood, an expression of joy and celebration, and a gentle satire. By definition, LEGO, being a simplified toy is at the opposite end of the social spectrum in almost every way from the rarefied intellectual “ivory tower” of classics, privileged historically for its cultural credibility and position. As anyone with a love of the ancient world knows though, history belongs to everyone, every culture’s history is equally valid and most people involved in the study of history and the ancient world love what they do. Lego Classicists therefore combines an expression of the joy and play involved at the heart of research and academic understanding, with the reminder that everyone, including a classicist, is an ordinary human being.

 

In emulating pop culture and being a part of it, and to critique and assess it as Lichtenstein and Warhol did, Lego Classicists portraits mimic mass production in order to hold up a mirror to modernity and mass production. As a result, Lego Classicist portraits aim to look and feel like genuine, mass-produced LEGO minifigures.[25] This adds an important critical dimension to the work, and like pop art generally, invites us to question the meaning of art itself and its difference from other visual forms. In addition, as they are produced, each Lego Classicist portrait is photographed and published on social media in keeping with pop culture,[26] and the photography deliberately maintains an unchanging format, with the figures consistently posed in the same way against a standard and largely unchanging background. This is a deliberate strategy to force the audience to see and think about the individual portraits themselves and the people they represent, rather than be distracted by changed compositions, backgrounds or context.

 

Lego Classicists began accidentally and developed organically and its popularity seems to be based not only on the novelty and irony of seeing well-known classicists (and other related individuals) interpreted in the simplified, playful form of LEGO figures, but significantly, also on the deeper underlying recognition of the personality and essential character of the subjects. Through Lego Classicists portraits, as the artist I aim to re-imagine a real person in LEGO form in a LEGO world, rather than use LEGO pieces to literally translate their outward appearance. The resulting Lego Classicists portraits capture something of the “spirit” of their subjects, which attempt to point the audience to something deeper and more essential. This sets up a philosophical contradiction in the viewer, since we simultaneously understand that we are viewing something playful and apparently simple, while also feeling a deeper recognition and sense of questioning about ourselves and our place in the world. And this is how art works generally.

 

Lego Classicists portraits therefore attempt to present more than what might at first be thought or expected. They seek to ask an audience to consider what it is to be human and what makes us recognisably human, what our role in the world is and how we enact it, and they ask us empathise across time and space. These apparently simple portraits ask us to consider the nature of families, communities and societies and demand us to look for commonality and universality. They ask us to question ourselves and the world we build.

 

Paradoxically, these innocent seeming portraits also show us the world we destroy. Their existence itself is physically contradictory since they are made of plastic and they therefore underpin one of the major problems of our time: the pollution of the environment with products that don’t break down or which destroy the atmosphere and physical environment.[27] Almost everyone on the planet has now grown up with LEGO, and apart from its glossy bright colours, ease of use and quality, perhaps the greatest joy it brings is the unique “click and a clunk” sound of LEGO pieces rattling together. This auditory sensation, for many of us the sound of childhood, is a result of the material LEGO is made from. And so, another contradiction underlies the portraits – are they innocent joyful playthings, dismissible for their simplicity or are they symbols and harbingers of something more problematic and dark? Should we feel delight or guilt? 

 

Lego Classicists is built on a philosophy of gift-giving. While the figures are intended to present joyful, ironic and inclusive sculptural portraits given as gifts to the subjects they portray, the underlying gift they aim to present is the gift of questioning - of ourselves, our connections and our world. Some of the questions the work might elicit are: How can a piece of plastic make me feel so much? How can a toy work like art? What is a “toy”? What does it mean to be human? Why are humans driven across cultures, place and time to make and recognise images of ourselves? What is simple and what is complex?

 

Complex or simple, Lego Classicists portraits aim to provide joy, irony and empathy, and to show the vast ancient world and the people who study it as a part and a reflection of all of us.

 

Conclusion

 

The pared-down, essential design of the LEGO minifigure has provided me with an artistic medium to address a number of simultaneous aims, including to highlight the role and relevance of the ancient world in modern times, to explore the role of the people whose work brings it to us, and to subtly introduce questions, ideas and discussions through the use of artwork. The Pantheon of portraits in this exhibition represents all the individuals whose dedicated work has enabled the development of the British School at Athens, which in turn represents our relationship with the past and future and the way we interpret and relate to our place and roles as human beings.

 

Through the support of the British School at Athens which has afforded me this extraordinary opportunity of a Virtual Artist in Residency and consequent online exhibition, I have been able to explore the history of the School and hopefully help bring its work to a wider audience, while also introducing ideas and issues that underlie our relationship with the ancient world and its study and our own modern cultural relationships with each other and the environment, and exploring the nature of art.

 

I hope that through the Lego Classicists portraits in this collection, I have married something of the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of the human condition and its universality, and symbolised how our lives inter-relate in the past, the present and the future we collectively create.

 

While other toys at the time were created to realistically depict the characters they portrayed, or to play up the unrealistic proportions of popular muscle-bound heroes of the era, the LEGO minifigure did the exact opposite.

Its design stripped away all those details and captured the character in its simplest form.

 

Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design, The LEGO Group[28]

 

 

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

Barrrett, B. (2022) The Art of the Minifigure, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

 

Cook, R. and Bacharach, S. (Eds) (2017) LEGO and Philosophy: Constructing Reality Brick by Brick, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Hoboken, NJ.

 

Danto, A (1964) The Artworld The Journal of Philosophy Vol. 61, No. 19, American Philosophical Association, pp. 571-584.

 

Irwin, W. and Johnson, D. (Eds) (2010) Introducing Philosophy Through Pop Culture: From Socrates to South Park, Hume to House, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, West Sussex.

 

Lipkowitz, D. (2009) The Lego Book, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London.

 

Jensen, L. (2018) Jane Rabnett Collection: Greek Pottery Remembering Jane (collection catalogue), Lynette Jensen Collection, Sydney.

 

Martell, N. ( 2009) Standing Small: A Celebration of 30 Years of the LEGO Minifigure, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London.

 

Sawaya, N. (2014) The Art Of The Brick, No Starch Press, San Francisco.

 

Tunnicliffe, W. and Jaspers, A (Eds) (2014) Pop to Popism, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

 

Turner, M. (2016) Alpha & Omega: Tales of Transformation, Sydney University Museums, Sydney.

 

Waterhouse, H. (1986) The British School at Athens: The First Hundred Years, British School at Athens, London.

 

Wiencek, H. (1987) The World of LEGO Toys, Harry N. Abrams Inc. New York.

 

 

Online

 

Lego Classicists Website: www.thelcfamily.com

 

BSA Website: www.bsa.ac.uk

 

BSA You Tube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UCJLq-d0Q3Upn28hO5UWptmw

 

Liam Jensen talks with BSA Director John Bennet: www.bsa.ac.uk/videos/international-legoclassicism-day-2021/

 

Jensen, L. (2019) Lego Classics: Serious or Superficial?. In L. D. Jensen  (April 25, 2019) Lego Classics: Serious or Superficial? [Video File].

Retrieved from www.vimeo.com/321346707

 

Michael Loy Lego Blog: https://resgerendae.wordpress.com/2018/05/30/the-lego-acropolis-historybrick-by-brick/

 

Artist Nathan Sawaya: www.nathansawaya.com

 

 

Lego Classicists Social Media

 

Instagram: www.instagram.com/lego_classicists/

 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LegoClassicists

 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LegoClassicists



[1] Barett, B (2022), The Art of the Minifigure, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

.

[2] Just like the Ancient Greek Pantheon of twelve Gods and Goddesses who represent the hundreds of deities that make up the ancient Greek religion, so the twelve people chosen for this exhibition act as representatives of the hundreds of people who make up the history of the BSA.

 

[3] See below page 8.

 

[4] LEGO is designed and produced in Denmark.

[5] Prof. John Bennet stepped down from his position as Director of the British School at Athens in August, 2022, and is succeeded by Prof. Rebecca Sweetman.

 

[6] The Greek Government donated the land for the BSA in 1884. See Waterhouse, H. (1986) The British School at Athens: The First Hundred Years, p. 7. 

[7] Penrose’s daughter Dame Emily Penrose lived with her father at the BSA in the School’s first year. Her journal, which records activities in that year, is now in the BSA archive. See Deborah Harlan’s blog article: www.bsa.ac.uk/2020/05/08/emily-penroses-diary-british-school-at-athens-in1887/.

 

[8] Dilys Powell’s The Villa Ariadne provides a poignant account of John Pendlebury and Sir Arthur Evans.

 

[9] The only known biography of Jane Rabnett is contained in the catalogue for the Jane Rabnett Collection of antique engravings of Greek pottery donated to the BSA by Lynette Jensen in 2018, now in the BSA archive. See Jensen, L. (2018) Jane Rabnett Collection: Greek Pottery Remembering Jane, Lynette Jensen Collection, Sydney.

[10] For more on Michael Turner’s role in the creation and donation of the Lego Acropolis, see Lynette Jensen’s 2018 Plenary talk at the University of New England, Lego Classics: Serious or Superficial, filmed and edited by Liam D. Jensen https://vimeo.com/321346707

 

[11] The Lego Acropolis was gifted to the Acropolis Museum by the Nicholson Museum at the University of Syndey. The Nicholson Museum has since merged with the other University of Sydney Collections to become part of the Chau Chak Wing Museum, which houses the Nicholson Collection of antiquities, the largest collection of antiquities in the southern hemisphere.

 

[12] Lego Classists website is www.thelcfamily.com

 

[13] In the lead up to the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey game release in 2018 I asked Prof. Bennet to translate the motto of the video game’s producer, Ubisoft, “History is our playground” into ancient Greek "ἱστορεῖν παίζειν". John told me that this translates back to “To do history is to play” in English, which we adopted as the Lego Classicists’ motto.

[14] Advertising employs various visual and psychological techniques to quickly attract and then keep attention.

 

[15] Martin Sharp (1942 – 2013) was an Australian artist who worked in Australia and the UK and is most famous for his pop art, especially in the form of simplified and brightly coloured posters. He was a founder of the radical Sydney University student paper OZ. His iconic images redefined the way we saw Sydney Harbour, the Opera House, Tiny Tim and Australian wild-life and his posters for Circus Oz helped define the company.

[16] The first LEGO bricks made of plastic were released in 1949. These early bricks didn’t have the internal tubes that we recognise today, and these were not added until 1957, and were called Automatic Binding Bricks. In 1953 they were renamed LEGO Mursten (Danish for LEGO Bricks) and in 1958 LEGO patented their final new interlocking design on the 28th January.

 

[17] http://www.nathansawaya.com

 

[18] https://www.gardinermuseum.on.ca/ai-weiwei-makes-bold-statements-lego/

 

[19] http://www.stefanobolcato.com

[20] See the writing of Arthur Danto, in particular Danto, A (1964) The Artworld, The Journal of Philosophy Vol. 61, No. 19, American Philosophical Association, pp. 571-584.

 

[21] Lego Medici Venus, constructed by Ryan McNaught, was commissioned by Michael Turner for the exhibition Alpha & Omega at the University of Sydney in 2016. See exhibition book: Turner, M. (2016) Alpha & Omega: Tales of Transformation p. 43. Nathan Sawaya’s  Venus de Milo is part of a series of classical and Renaissance sculptures created by the artist to highlight the role of art through history.

 

[22] LEGO has been experimenting with human figures compatible with the brick through their System of Play since 1955, but it was not until 1975 that the first evolution of the modern minifigure was released. This figure was made up of three basic parts with no movable limbs, creating a very abstract looking figure. It was very soon after this that they developed this idea further and in 1979 they released the first minifigure with moving limbs and a smiling head which has changed very little since.

[23] For a discussion of LEGO and race, see Roy Cook’s essay “Nijas, Kobe Bryant and Yellow Plastic, the LEGO Minifigure and Race” in Cook and Bacharach (2017) LEGO and Philosophy: Constructing Reality Brick by Brick.

 

[24] Everyman is a character trope, still used in cinema, television, pop culture and gaming, which attempts to represent the commonality in all of us. The character seems to have developed originally in the 15th century morality play The Summoning of Everyman, whose author is unknown.

[25] Lego Classicist portraits are indeed constructed using genuine LEGO minifigure parts, but are usually modified with printed and hand-painted designs and adaptations by the artist.

 

[26] This also refers to the modern pop culture obsession with posting images of the self on social media.

 

[27] A particularly effective pop art critique of modern civilization’s relationship with petro-chemical products is the art work ESSO-LSD (1967) by Oyvind Fahlstrom. See Tunnicliffe, W. and Jaspers, A. Pop to Popism (2014) pp. 134-5.

[28] Barett, B (2022), The Art of the Minifigure, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.