Dan Parker isn’t just any LEGO professional artist. He’s a Certified LEGO Professional, or CLP, a designation he helped create. Parker plays with these plastic toys for a living, and while he’s not alone – there are other CLPs creating extraordinary art with the 1-inch-by-1-inch, 1.6 millimeter-thick rectangles – Parker is the art form’s architect extraordinaire. Among the 3,000-plus works Parker has designed from the tiny cubes are faithful, scale-modeled recreations of many of the world’s architectural wonders, including the current tallest building on Earth. Ten of these works, including the awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, are on display in “Block By Block,” a splendiferous exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.
It’s an exhibit that opens on a brand-new and inherently patriotic note, with Parker’s LEGO vision of One World Trade Center, which completed its exterior construction this year, making it the tallest edifice in the Western Hemisphere. In Parker’s sculpture, white solid bricks frame transparent ones, which represent the glass walls. Sleek and modern, with brick combinations forming points that shoot toward the sky, the building appropriately suggests defiance and upward mobility, not to mention rebirth. It’s like America, or at least what America is supposed to stand for.
Parker’s One World Trade Center is indicative of most of his pieces, in that they look less like the actual buildings than they do stylized, animated, more-vibrant versions of them from other dimensions. Pop-culture iconography clings to them like spider-webs on an abandoned mansion. Manhattan’s Flatiron Building looks like something out of Gotham City, with the artist creating a 3D effect, as certain formations of gray bricks jut out slightly enough to play tricks with the eye. Seattle’s legendary Space Needle resembles a science-fiction writer’s futuristic encampment even more than the space-age original does, and 30 St. Mary Axe, in London, looks like the world’s largest nesting doll; you can picture smaller versions of the egglike structure hiding underneath its diagonal rows of alternating blue-and-white diamonds.
Whatever color the edifices resemble in the glare of the sun or the flicker of moonlight, they look exaggerated and even more beautiful in Parker’s head. His Hearst Tower, in Midtown Manhattan, is a cool, aquatic cobalt block that seems to almost flow like waves. Burj Khalifa, likewise, is perhaps prettier than the original, a gleaming royal blue construct with three-quarter-circles hugging larger columns in intricate symbiosis. And the Taipei 101 building, in Taiwan, is a silver, monochrome beacon of ingenuity, presiding over a metropolis like a sentinel.
Aside every sculpture, the Norton’s snazzy curatorial team has included iPad screens showing the real buildings, wall plaques providing information about them, and statistics about Parker’s labor – how many bricks went into each piece, how many hours it took him to make them, etc. (200,000 LEGO bricks went into these works collectively).
The result of this mammoth expenditure of labor reveals Parker to be something of a mad genius, crafting felicitous follies that pay loving tribute to each real-world architect’s outsized vision. This is an exhibition that so evokes the principal of starting with nothing but two bricks and molding a masterpiece: It’s architecture in microcosm. And, better yet, it helps us appreciate these occasionally familiar buildings in new and unusual ways.
"Block by Block" is on display through Oct. 20 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561/832-5196 or visit norton.org.