23 October 2016
Ai Weiwei says his young son likes to play with Lego bricks. Photo: Instagram/Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei says his young son likes to play with Lego bricks. Photo: Instagram/Ai Weiwei

Lego admits it was a mistake to refuse Ai Weiwei bricks for art

The billionaire family that owns Danish toy company Lego A/S said it was a “mistake” to refuse Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei’s request for a bulk order of its iconic bricks last year.

Lego provoked an outcry on social media in October after  Ai said the toy maker turned down his order for bricks to create art for an exhibition in Australia because it considered his work to be too political.

The request was rejected “very low in the organization by our consumer service department”, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, Lego’s vice chairman and grandson of the founder, told The Wall Street Journal.

He said an employee misinterpreted a policy on political neutrality, and Lego’s board wasn’t involved.

“It was an internal mistake,’’ Kirk Kristiansen said.

He was with his son and successor, Thomas, who agreed that an error had occurred.

Ai welcomed the statement, although he said it had taken a long time to come.

He has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and has been detained and interrogated in the past by authorities.

“I think it’s positive, but I think they recognized it a bit too late,” Ai said in an interview.

“I had to respond to this incident because it is about freedom of expression. The Lego company has such a strong influence on every child, so I think it’s not an issue to be ignored.”

After the refusal, Ai’s supporters around the world offered to donate bricks. Collection points were set up from Melbourne to London.

Ai questioned whether Lego’s decision not to sell to him was influenced by concerns about maintaining access to China.

Lego has a factory there, and a new Legoland theme park is planned in Shanghai.

The firm’s refusal wasn’t influenced by commercial considerations in China, Kirk Kristiansen said.

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