Let’s say you’re an iconic Danish toy company and you’ve already harnessed the power of some of the most famous pop-culture franchises in history (namely Marvel, Star Wars, and Harry Potter) — where do you turn next in your quest for inspiration? If you guessed New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), you’re correct. (Though seriously, why would you have guessed that?)
The newest set from Lego (the toy giant in question) was originally the brainchild of a Hong Kong-based PhD student, Truman Cheng. He noticed that the brushstrokes of Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic painting, which has resided at MoMA since 1935, looked a lot like bricks stacked together. Cheng submitted his design via the Lego Ideas platform, where it got got thousands of votes from the passionate Lego fan community.
Before it could bring the set to life, the company had to get the museum’s sign off. Fortunately, MoMA agreed. Van Gogh may not have sold more than a few paintings in his lifetime, but his genius surely belongs on the shelves gift shops and in the homes of dedicated Lego collectors.
The execution of Cheng’s vision fell to Lego designer Søren Gehlert Dyrhøj, who recently visited MoMA to see Starry Night in person for the first time and to meet with a few journalists, myself included, to talk to us about the process. A small group of us were allowed into the galleries before the museum opened to the public, and we huddled in front of the painting, admiring its fierce, joyful dynamism, the bright swirls of the moon and bright Venus in the sky, the peaceful little Provencal town, the towering cypress tree anchoring the foreground.
“I tried to get into his state of mind,” Dyrhøj said.
Fortunately this did not mean a trip to a mental hospital in Provence (Van Gogh painted his 1889 masterpiece after committing himself to one) but rather spending a lot of time with photographs of the painting and pixelating the image to see how the different colors came together.
It took about 2 weeks for Dyrhøj to come up with his preliminary design. He then met with a committee comprised of fellow Lego designers, who helped him refine his plan, and the group that puts together the instruction booklets. The result is a 1,500 piece set that can hang on the wall or be displayed on a table; it’s labeled 18+, so isn’t appropriate for Lego’s younger fans. (My 12 year old, though, thoroughly enjoyed building it.)
The set will go on sale next week on May 25th exclusively for Lego’s VIP program and MoMA members, and then will be available to everyone else on June 1 on Lego.com, in Lego stores and at the MoMA Design Store in New York City and online.
Lego will also be hosting a design competition in which people can submit their own miniature versions of the night sky. Winning designs will form part of an installation displayed in the MoMA lobby this summer. Participants can enter by visiting www.LEGO.com/Starry-Night; competition ends June 30th.