Unlike artists of yesteryear, those working on exhibitions in a modern context have been allowed to think beyond the traditional confines of slapping paint on canvas. One such Los Angeles-based artist, Andy Bauch, has an impressive track record of utilizing LEGO's to achieve his unique vision of LEGO art.
In the past, Bauch completed a series of works which captured some of Los Angeles' key destinations like Randy's Donuts, Aloha Tower, Griffith Observatory, Helms Bakery, and Pink's Hot Dogs.
His newest body of work, New Money, which opened this past weekend as a pop up experience at Castelli Art Space in Culver City, further expanded upon his love for both LEGO and mosaic aesthetics.
Drawn to the fast-changing and murky aspect of cryptocurrency which has seen industry leader, Bitcoin, hemorrhage 72 billion USD at one point in 2018, Bausch's goal was to create something not only visually stunning - thanks to over 100,000 LEGO bricks - but also something tactile - given the invisible nature of cryptocurrency - which can't jingle or fold like money we are more accustomed to dealing with.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Bausch in the days before New Money opened to get a better understanding of why he works with LEGO, his fascination with cryptocurrency, and why the death of Toys "R" Us may not actually be a childhood killer.
What's your first LEGO memory and why do you think the tiny bricks have stuck with you all these years later?
I actually didn't use LEGO bricks more than your average kid, but I rediscovered them as an art medium in 2010 when I realized they are easily wielded as physical pixels. When you put thousands on a canvas they look both computerized and physical. The art I'm making now highlights and bridges the gap between technology and humanity and LEGO bricks sit nicely in that gap. They are artificial, ubiquitous, modular, mass produced at a rate of 20 million per hour, and then slobbered and chewed on by kids around the world. They are a perfect intersection of technology and humanity.
The goal of LEGO is often to go from something to nothing - a fort, ship, car whatever. In the past, you've portrayed tangible LA landmarks. The new work is much more abstract. Why the shift?
When I first started experimenting with art I was more focused on figuring out how I could use image encoding techniques to interpret famous works of art history and recreate them with LEGO bricks. And I gradually morphed from that appropriation phase into my current exploration of technology. Some of my newer works are still figurative but they generally aren't quite as literal as the LA landmarks and portraits I was making a few years ago.
You've referenced themes relating to "darkness" before. Do you like the dichotomy between happy and cheerful LEGO and turning a person's expectations upside down?
Definitely. The personal connection most people have with LEGO bricks is strong and draws people into the work in an intimate way. Juxtapose that with works that express abstract, cold, or uncomfortable ideas and you get some powerful reactions.
When's the first time you heard of Bitcoin? Was there any similarities between the curiosities you felt for LEGO, and this new form of cryptocurrency?
I first heard about Bitcoin in 2013 and started experimenting with mining it. My initial curiosity wasn't strong enough for me to keep going, but over the years I've checked in with it periodically to see how far it's come. It was only in 2016 that I started embedding the cryptocurrency into artworks.
My interest in Bitcoin is a bit different from my attraction to LEGO as a medium. LEGO bricks help me express a lot of different concepts, including Bitcoin and the current bizarre cryptocurrency landscape.
LEGO is tactile. Bitcoin is not. What led you down the path to make the new form of currency something that people could actually see and touch?
The main goal of my art right now is to convey parts of the digital world which are invisible and make them visible. Using such a tactile medium can bring people a little closer to the ethereal concept of cryptocurrency. Although admittedly the way I visually generate patterns from cryptocurrency can add another layer of complexity, it at least often leads to deeper conversations around the topic.
From what I understand, a person who is savvy enough could look into this mosaics and actually unlock the keys to a person's bitcoin wallet and essentially make money from looking "deeper" into the work. The irony is apparent in that the value of cryptocurrency often fluctuates - making gains and losses in literal seconds. Secondly, people often want art to be more than what is at surface level. Was it always your goal to make a critique on both the crypto and art worlds?
That's correct. The show will feature a real time display of the violent fluctuations in USD value of the currencies embedded in the art. Values in the art market can be driven by scarcity, prestige, beauty, mastery, and any number of other variables. But oftentimes these attributes can be manipulated, inflated, overhyped and otherwise distorted to change the price. Some forms of cryptocurrency have no intrinsic value, others have functional attributes, but either way the cryptocurrency markets are similarly off the wall, with nearly zero regulation at the moment.
Your pop up is debuting as news emerges that Toys "R" Us is shuttering all of their stores. Given your usage of LEGO, does it make you sad that a whole generation of kids will miss out on the exhilarating toy store experience in favor of online shopping on Amazon?
Although I have a bit of nostalgia for the experience of shopping at Toys "R" Us I don't feel too bad for kids. The experience of shopping at brick and mortar stores is one that will I'm sure be replaced by experiences we can barely fathom. The recent developments in artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality will probably bring us experiences and toys of unprecedented personalization and immersion. It's currently recommended that babies and young children are not exposed to technology, but how long do you think that recommendation is reasonably going to last?
For someone who has spent a large amount of time thinking about crytocurrency, do you think it will ever replace traditional money?
Personally I have no idea what's going to happen. But if I were to take a wild guess, I'd say that it probably won't replace traditional money in my lifetime but that some of the blockchain technologies may have enough legs in the long run to produce some very valuable systems.
Your show contains 100.000 LEGO bricks. That staggering number seems quite crazy. From a logistics standpoint, how do you go about gathering that much? As a follow up, how many LEGO bricks do you think you've used in your career?
Yeah it's a wild number. Gathering that many bricks requires a lot of organization. I've built systems to assist me with the process of breaking my designs into the necessary LEGO parts and then I order used parts from dozens of vendors around the world. Building the art requires the work of several assistants and in the case of a big show like this dozens of friends who have shown up to help out in various ways. I think I've used upwards of 500,000 so far, but who's counting?
Will LEGO always be a constant in your work moving forward?
Not necessarily, while I love working with LEGO I'm experimenting with some other mediums as well. This show also features two works composed of about 4,000 Lite-Brite pegs, and some kinematic works created with thermal receipt printers and some custom software.
For more LEGO news, read why Elon Musk has plans to make life-size bricks.