The #21333 LEGO Ideas Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night is the latest in the LEGO Ideas collection. It was originally designed by and submitted to the LEGO Ideas platform by LEGO fan Truman Cheng (a.k.a. legotruman), and brought to life in conjunction with MoMA The Museum of Modern Art.
I was a little apprehensive about this project, as I was worried that LEGO bricks won’t give justice to such a deep, powerful, and dynamic work of art. Van Gogh was way ahead of his time in terms of painting techniques and artistic expression and is now considered one of the most famous and influential figures of Western Art history. But he was not recognized nor was he commercially successful during his life. He also struggled with severe depression and poverty, and ultimately committed suicide at the age of just 37. Can the genius of van Gogh – both fueled and shadowed by his troubled life – shine through the colorful, playful, and restrictive medium of LEGO?
I was happy to see that the building instructions for the set dedicated four pages to the life and legacy of van Gogh with a few beautiful samples of his artwork, a summary of his life and art, and a couple of quotes from his letters.
Four more pages introduce the fan designer, Truman Cheng, a Ph.D. student in medical robotics from Hong Kong, LEGO model designer Soren Gehlert Dyrhoj, and LEGO graphic designer Niken Ayamurti Hortomo. In the video below, you can watch them talk about the set, along with Hasan Jensen from the LEGO Ideas team, and MoMA Associate Curator, Cara Manes.
As for all the adult-oriented sets, the box for the LEGO Starry Night set is mostly black, which, in this case, works well. The box is actually smaller than I expected for a 2,316-piece set, but most of the elements are small plates for the painting portion and basic bricks for the frame. The final model measures 11 in. (28 cm) high, 14.5 in. (38 cm) wide, and 4.5 in. (12 cm) deep, and can be displayed freestanding or hung by its wall hook.
The pieces are separated into nine sets of numbered bags. Bags 1-5 are for building most of the painting and the base of the frame, and 6-9 are for building the cypress trees, the swirls and stars for the sky, the fold-out stand for the Vincent van Gogh minifig, and the rest of the frame around the painting.
LEGO fan designer Truman Cheng took some creative liberties by adding a 3D aspect to the painting (see original submission above). This was a pretty bold and unique idea, but the LEGO set designers liked it and felt that it highlighted the artist’s iconic strong brush strokes.
LEGO model designer Soren Gehlert Dyrhoj states in the instruction book: “I wanted to make sure we created a great building experience as well as a work of art. We worked closely with MoMA, experimented with lots of different building techniques and angles, and I kept going back to every LEGO element to get the colors and placement right, and hopefully, do van Gogh’s beautiful brushwork justice!”
LEGO graphic designer Niken Ayamurti Hortomo adds the following: “This set is truly made for every art lover, especially for van Gogh fans. And we couldn’t have done it without MoMA. The final model is so impressive, it shows depth and layers that mimic the techniques used in the actual painting.”
While all of the LEGO painting is 3D, this feature is most prominent at the base of the model. Here, the landscaping is twelve studs wide and accommodates an entire miniature village with houses, forests, and a nice little church. Building techniques go both studs up and studs sideways, providing an interesting building experience.
Building the background for the sky is the most laborious and tedious part of the experience. You’re stacking 1x tiles and plates in 50 rows tall and 40 studs wide using four shades of blue. You will certainly see blue by the end of the building process!
Then comes building the black frame around the painting. This is also a reparative and boring step but it is necessary to give the painting a nice edge.
All that hard work gets rewarded in the next step when we’re back to having fun by adding stars to the night sky made with pretty printed dome pieces, adding the swirly patterns to the sky, and building the cypress trees.
The final steps are to build a few more houses in the village and to build the small fold-out platform that the van Gogh minifig can stand on. Although adding the minifig was the fan designer’s idea, adding the foldout stand was a feature added by the LEGO designers.
Once the set is built, it can stand up on its base, or you can also hang it by its wall hook. It looks quite striking with its mosaic-like patterns and beautiful colors, and the 3D aspect adds some surprising angles and dimensions. It certainly plays with your mind and eyes like the original.
Of course, we don’t know how van Gogh would have responded to this LEGO set, but I suspect he would have appreciated the boldness and creativity. And I do feel that both the fan designer and the LEGO designers treated this project with respect and made something truly beautiful. LEGO has really grown up and matured into a medium of art that even adults with a fine taste can appreciate.
While this is not the first time talented LEGO fans turned the brick into a form of art in their own custom projects, this is the first time such advanced techniques are seen in an official LEGO set that anyone can buy. And I suspect it will inspire more people to use LEGO for their artistic expression. If you would like to get your own copy of the #21333 LEGO Ideas Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night set, visit the LEGO Ideas section of the Online LEGO Shop.
What do you think? How do you like the LEGO Starry Night set? Do you have it already? Or are you planning to add it to your collection? Feel free to share and discuss in the comment section below!
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