LEGO Exhibits & Special Events at the Museum of Science & Industry


The Art of the Brick is the third exhibit to feature Lego® bricks at the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) in Chicago, by my count.[1]  The first exhibit was MSI Presents LEGO MINDSTORMS.  It was sponsored by LEGO Systems, Inc., the Amrican-based division of The LEGO® Group. 

MINDSTORMS is a subtheme of the LEGO® TECHNIC theme (product line) that uses a combination of TECHNIC and LEGO® System pieces.  A set in the MINDSTORMS theme consists of a programable master brick to which one attaches motors and sensors, allowing for the construction of a wireless robot comprised of LEGO® parts.

Visitors to the exhibit used LEGO® MINDSTORMS technology to design, build, and program robots in workshops that were organized by theme.  [In this case, theme is a reference to category rather than a LEGO® product line.] One of the workshops, “RobotSports,” was modeled on a course taught at M.I.T.  Visitors paid $5 per computer station and up to three people could use a computer station.  MSI Presents LEGO MINDSTORMS opened in November of 1997 and closed in September of 2001.[2] 

The second LEGO® exhibit at the M.S.I. was the temporary exhibit Brick by Brick.  It featured a collection of giant LEGO®-built structures of engineering marvels, including a sixty-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge, the International Space Station, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Hoover Dam, and the Roman Colosseum, all of which were designed and built by the LEGO® Certified Professional and Chicago native Adam Reed Tucker. The 7,000-square-foot exhibit opened on the Main Floor of the M.S.I. on Thursday, March 10, A.D. 2016, and was supposed to be open through February of 2017.  However, it was extended several times: firstly, until April; secondly, until Monday, September 4, A.D 2017 (Labor Day); thirdly until Sunday, January 7, 2018; and fourthly, until Sunday, April 1, A.D. 2018 (Easter Sunday).  To enter Brick by Brick, one had to have an additional, timed-entry ticket. 

The M.S.I. hosted at least three special events to promote Brick by Brick.  The first two were both held on Saturday, July 16, A.D. 2016.  

Firstly, there was the “Summer Brick Party” from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  on It included interactive build stations courtesy of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago (which is located in the Streets of Woodfield mall in northwest suburban Schaumburg, Illinois) and a screening of The LEGO® Movie (2014).  WBEZ Chicago (91.5 FM), Chicago’s N.P.R. radio station, held an event called “MSI Summer Brick Party: How to Build Your Own Podcast.” The musical act Ben Tatar and the Tatar Tots performed.  Other activities included face painting, face masks, and Minifigure™ caricature portraits. 

Secondly, adults who were twenty-one-years-of-age and over could enjoy access to Brick by Brick and other exhibits, including Science Storms and Numbers In Nature: A Mirror Maze while eating snacks and drinking cocktails, at M.S.I.’s first public night event, MSI After Hours: Brick Bash, from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.  Guests could build their own sliders.  Brickstone Brewery from Bourbonnais, Illinois offered craft beers.  One could also work with a mixologist to develop one’s own cocktail.  Guests could also listen to a live recording of a “General Admission” podcast with Adam Reed Tucker, courtesy of news radio station W.B.E.Z. Chicago, an N.P.R. affiliate.  Guests had to secure a timed-entry ticket for Brick by Brick or Numbers In Nature upon arrival at M.S.I. tonight.  Exhibit entry ended at 9:00 p.m., or so the M.S.I. planned.  Tickets to this adults-only event were $30.  They are sold out online before the event took place, but a limited number of tickets will be sold at the door.  A ticket covered parking in the underground garage, admission to Brick by Brick and other exhibits, snacks, and one complimentary cocktail.  A cash bar was also available.

Thirdly, Adam Reed Tucker signed copies of the magazine Bricks Culture on Saturday, August 26, A.D. 2017. Bricks Culture was a quarterly magazine that was available in both paper and digital formats.

Figure 1 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Adam Reed Tucker built a LEGO® model of the Palace of Fine Arts, the historic building that houses the Museum of Science and Industry, in 2013.[3]  This is Micoscale (also known as Miniscale) model.  The LEGO® Group uses Micoscale models for extremely large structures.  Note that the Palace of Fine Arts did not gain the Henry Crown Space Center until the 1980s. This model depicted the building in its original symmetry.

Figure 2 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: LEGO® Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker builds a larger scale model of the Palace of Fine Arts (the building that houses the Museum of Science and Industry) for the exhibit Brick by Brick.  The presence of the Transportation Gallery (West Court) behind him indicates he was working in the Grand Rotunda.

Figure 3 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This model of the Palace of Fine Arts, which was built for the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and now houses the M.S.I., is 8’ wide, 2’ tall, took 41 hours to design, took Adam Reed Tucker 187 hours to build, and is comprised of 18,500 bricks.

Figure 4 Photo Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: LEGO® Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker’s model of the Golden Gate Bridge is 60’ long, took 215 hours to design, 260 hours to build, and is comprised of 64,500 bricks. 

Figure 5 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: It took LEGO® Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker 145 hours to design and 230 hours to build this model of Cinderella’s Castle for the temporary exhibit Brick by Brick.

Note that Adam Reed Tucker has founded a construction toy company called Atom Brick that produces a Microscale model of the U-505 that can be purchased at the M.S.I gift shops and elsewhere.  Atom Bricks are very similar to LEGO® bricks but are somewhat smaller.

The Art of the Brick is a traveling exhibit that features over 100 artworks that artist, author, and public speaker Nathan Sawaya designed and built out of millions of LEGO® bricks.  It made its debut at the M.S.I. last Friday (Friday, February 10, A.D. 2022).  This exhibit was another one not created by The LEGO® Group.  However, The LEGO® Group has recognized Mr. Sawaya as both a LEGO® Master Builder and a LEGO® Certified Professional.  The exhibit will run through Monday, September 5, A.D. 2022 (Labor Day).  Update (09/06/22): The Art of the Brick has proven to be popular exhibit at the M.S.I. and has been extended through Monday, January 16, A.D. 2023.

The Art of the Brick is the first major art exhibition to use LEGO bricks as the sole art medium,” the M.S.I. stated in a press release.  “Sawaya transforms LEGO bricks into tremendous and thought-provoking sculptures, elevating the toy to the realm of art.” 

Sawaya usually adds several new sculptures to The Art of the Brick everywhere it goes on exhibition. For the exhibit’s Chicago debut, he added several artworks, including a replica of Chicago artist Hebru Brantley’s Flyboy.

The Art of the Brick reimagines famous artistic masterpieces into LEGO form,” stated Chevy Humphrey, President and C.E.O. of the M.S.I.  “Visitors of all ages will witness art in a whole new way, while celebrating an imaginative and creative medium.”

As with MSI Presents LEGO MINDSTORMS and Brick by Brick, admission to The Art of the Brick is not covered by Museum Entry (general admission) tickets.  Rather, this is a special exhibit that requires separate, timed-entry tickets.

These tickets are $14 for adults, $11 for children (ages three-to-eleven), and $7 for Members of all ages.  Click here to purchase tickets. 

The M.S.I. described the artworks as “original pieces and reimagined world-famous masterpieces.”  These include Yellow, a life-size sculpture of a man pulling his chest apart to release a cascade of thousands of yellow LEGO® bricks from his chest cavity; Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night; Leonard Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; and “A multimedia collection of LEGO brick infused photography produced in tandem with award-winning photographer Dean West.” 

The Art of the Brick takes LEGO somewhere you wouldn’t expect and shows you things you have never seen before,” Sawaya stated.  “The goal with this collection of art is to demonstrate the potential of imagination and the power of creativity.”

The M.S.I. has supplemented Sawaya’s artworks with the interactive One Brick Studio.  Here, visitors challenge friends or relatives in their party “to recreate a piece of art of express their emotions using LEGO bricks,” according to the M.S.I.  “Inside the studio guests are encouraged to practice the same communication skills that scientists and artists use to share their ideas with the world.”

Born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon, Nathan Sawaya attended New York University and has written two best-selling books.  Originally a corporate lawyer who worked in New York City, he is the first artist to work exclusively in the medium of LEGO® bricks.  He works with standard LEGO® bricks (rather than commissioning The LEGO® Group to make pieces especially for him or purchasing bricks or other pieces with after-market modifications the way Ktown Bricks, for example, will alter pieces to make LEGO® Minifigures™ or accessories that are historically accurate for customers who want to stage battlefield tableaux).

Sawaya wrote and self-published The Art of the Brick – The Pictorial in 2008.  Scott Jones wrote The Art of Nathan Sawaya, published by DK in 2012.  Sawya wrote the foreword.  He wrote The Art of the Brick Exhibition, published in 2014; The Art of the Brick: A Life in LEGO, published in 2014; and The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO, published in 2017. 

In a 2018 interview, Sawaya said he had about 7,000,000 LEGO® bricks in his L.A. studio.  Sawaya has two Websites: www.nathansawaya.com is devoted to Sawaya himself and https://www.brickartist.com  is devoted to The Brick Artist

Figure 6 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is artist Nathan Sawaya working in one of his studios on July 17, A.D. 2010.

Figure 7 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This is Nathan Sawaya’s replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  The replica consists of 3,493 LEGO® bricks.

Figure 8 Credit: The Art of the Brick Caption: This appears to be Nathan Sawaya’s sculpture Dinosaur Skeleton.  Built in 2011, it is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “largest LEGO brick skeleton.”  The size of an actual Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, it is twenty feet (six meters) long and is comprised of approximately 80,000 LEGO® bricks.  Mr. Sawaya took the whole summer of 2011 to build Dinosaur Skeleton.  Obviously, if you appreciate this T-rex skeleton model, you will likely appreciate SUE at The Field Museum and vice versa.

Other Exhibits with LEGO® Components

There have also been exhibits that featured LEGO® structures.  Adam Reed Tucker designed and built a model of Cinderella’s Castle for the M.S.I. display of the exhibit Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, which ran from October 16, A.D. 2013 to August 3, A.D. 2014.[4]  He redesigned and rebuilt Cinderella’s Castle for Brick by Brick, a M.S.I. spokeswoman explained to me.

The pop-up exhibition “Moon Room 1968” included a LEGO® space shuttle built by a world-famous astronaut on a bookshelf. [5]  This pop-up exhibit (as the M.S.I. described the exhibition) took up the ground floor of the house erected for the exhibit Smart Home Green + Wired in Beaver Park, between the Henry Crown Space Center and the East Pavilion.[6]  As part of 50th anniversary celebrations of N.A.S.A.’s Apollo 8 mission, visitors could re-live the experiences millions of Americans had in watching the Apollo 8 mission orbiting the Moon on television in their living rooms in “Moon Room 1968.” It opened to the public on Friday, December 6, A.D. 2018. 

The space shuttle was the worst anachronism in the exhibit, but it was special and there was a certain logic to its presence as it had been made by the astronaut Captain James Lovell, Junior, as the exhibit label explained. The LEGO® space shuttle model was an anachronism because space shuttles, which were the first reusable orbital spacecraft, did not launch for the first time until 1981, and this model Utility Shuttle (Set #60078) from the LEGO® City theme was not released until 2015.  Captain Lovell built this particular LEGO® space shuttle model for the 2016-17 Christmas Around the World.  It tied in with the temporary exhibit Brick by Brick (2016-2018).

The Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry decorated in a style similar to the home of Jim Lovell and family.
Figure 9 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: The pop-up “Moon Room 1968” includes both the living room and dining room in the Smart Home.

Figure 10 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: During my visit on Monday, December 24, A.D. 2018, a television reporter was interviewing people, including a young boy who pointed out this LEGO® space shuttle, which the reporter had not noticed.  Astronaut Jim Lovell built this LEGO® space shuttle for the 2016 Christmas Around the World.  It tied in with the temporary exhibit Brick by Brick.

Visiting the Museum of Science & Industry

The Brain Food Court and the Museum Café (a coffee shop that also sold sandwiches) on the Lower Level (ground floor) in the Central Pavilion’s Lower Court are closed while they undergo renovations and will re-open as the Museum Kitchen later this year.  One Small Snack, a takeout café, opened in the southeast corner of the Henry Crown Space Center. 

Finnigan’s Sandwich Shoppe (a rebranding of Finnegan’s Ice Cream Parlor), off Yesterday’s Main Street, on the Main Level, in the Central Pavilion, also seems to be temporarily closed.  I did not see it being marked off as undergoing renovations on the current floor plan, but I surmise that it is closed, too, because I do not see hours listed for it posted on the M.S.I.’s Website and nor is it mentioned on the list of restaurants and shops on the Website.

There are some vending machines located in the Lower Court and there remains a limited amount of seating in the Lower Court.  Visitors who bring their own lunches can eat them in the Lower Court and in a designated area outside the Ships Gallery.

The Idea Factory, an interactive attraction that is popular with young children, located near Farm Tech, in the Central Pavilion on the Lower Level (ground floor) is also closed.  The same is true of the Science Theater, located near Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the south end of the Central Pavilion on the Lower Level.

On the other hand, optional on-board tours of the U-505 have resumed.  Previously, under COVID-19 restrictions, visitors could walk around her in the U-505 exhibit hall, but not through her. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $14 for children (ages three-to-eleven).  For Members, that is $17 for adults and $13 for children.

U505 Submarine @ The Museum of Science+Industry Chicago
Figure 11 J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the (portside of the) U-505 alongside a mockup of her conning tower, two torpedoes, and simulators inside her exhibit hall on August 2, A.D. 2007.

Currently, the Museum of Science and Industry is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The address of the M.S.I. is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.  The Website is https://www.msichicago.org/ and the phone number is (773) 684-1414.

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ENDNOTES


[1] This article is adapted from one posted on my other blog, In the Garden City.

[2] I initially wrote on my other blog I could not determine when the exhibit opened or closed.  However, I eventually found the information I needed in one of my own articles for the former online newspaper Examiner.com Chicago.  Separately, a former M.S.I. executive who played a key role in developing the exhibit wrote me that he recalled it opened in 1997. 

[3] The Palace of Fine Arts (P.F.A.) was the art museum building built in Jackson Park for Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893).  Charles B. Atwood (1849-1895) as Chief Architect of the World’s Columbian Exposition personally designed the P.F.A. After the World’s Fair, it housed the Columbian Field Museum from 1894 to 1920. [The Field Columbian Museum narrowed its focus and now sits in Burnham Park as The Field Museum of Natural History.]  Sears, Roebuck & Company executive and M.S.I. founder Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) and the South Park Commission – one of Chicago’s twenty-two park districts that merged to form the Chicago Park District in 1934 – paid to restore the building, add the limestone façade, and construct the Art Moderne interior.  The architect Alfred Phillips Shaw (1895-1970) oversaw the restoration and designed the Art Moderne interior.  The P.F.A. re-opened as the Museum of Science and Industry in three stages between 1933 and 1940. 

[4] The original iteration of the exhibit Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives opened at D23 Expo (September 10-13,2009) at the Anaheim Convention Center.  A second iteration appeared at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library and Museum, where it ran from July 5, A.D. 2012 to April 30, A.D. 2013.  The third iteration was at the Museum of Science and Industry and a fourth iteration toured Japan.  D23 is the Official Disney Fan Club.

[5] The difference between an exhibit and an exhibition at a museum is the duration.  An exhibition is on display for less than three months.  If it is on display for more than three months, it is an exhibit. An exhibit labeled as a “temporary exhibit” may be open for anywhere from three months to a few years but the curators, executives, and spokesmen or spokeswomen want visitors to know the exhibit will only be open for a limited time and they cannot expect to come back and see it for generations the way they have been able to see the Coal Mine, Yesterday’s Main Street, the Gallery of Model Ships, or U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry; or the mummies or the Lions of Tsavo at The Field Museum of Natural History; or the Thorne Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago; or the Atwood Sphere, which used to be at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and is now at the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum

[6] Although the temporary exhibit Smart Home Green + Wired closed in 2013, the house remains standing in Beaver Park, the courtyard between the East Pavilion and the Henry Crown Space Center.


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