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Polish artist uses LEGO gift to build models of death camps

Jewish News of Western Massachusetts
ENFIELD, Conn., March 26 (JTA) — LEGO encourages creativity and imagination, but the maker of plastic blocks is vigorously dissociating itself from a Polish artist’s recent exhibit of concentration camps he built using LEGO pieces. The artist also fabricated and sold imitation LEGO kits to consumers to construct his models. “We find the creation of these to be unconscionable,” said Peter Eio, president of LEGO Systems Inc., the North American division of the Denmark-based LEGO Group. Artist Zbignew Libera approached LEGO-Poland last year, requesting blocks to build what he described as “houses and hospitals.” LEGO has worked without contract with artists, architects and others over the years, supplying pieces that eventually become wonderful works, according to Peter Ambeck-Madsen of LEGO-Denmark. “LEGO-Poland was interested in improving its community outreach so the blocks were supplied at no cost to the artist,” said Katherine Lee, associate public relations manager for LEGO’s Enfield, Conn., office. Requests for blocks by schools, museums and other non-profit groups are very routine and are processed individually by LEGO. The company has no control over how its blocks actually are used, Lee said. The Polish artist’s models of concentration camps were first seen late last year in Warsaw. And an exhibition of the models was recently held in Copenhagen. The artist also took photos of the models and applied these photos and other graphic elements to seven boxes containing the blocks to build these models. “He even used LEGO’s four-digit coding system and the phrase, `This project sponsored by LEGO System’ to increase its authenticity,” Lee said. The artist sold four of these kits for as much as $7,200, according to Ambeck-Madsen. LEGO first learned of the artist’s work through news releases received by European LEGO offices. The reaction in Europe has been swift. “We’ve seen editorials denouncing this project and gotten calls by Jewish groups from as far away as Sweden who wanted to boycott LEGO because they weren’t clear that this was not an actual LEGO product,” said Ambeck-Madsen.