Grand Rapids Public Museum explores interconnectedness with nature through new LEGO exhibit


Courtesy to GR Magazine

Mary Dupuis

Produced by Imagine Exhibitions, the newest exhibition at the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM), “Wild Connections” by New York artist Sean Kenney, opened Nov. 7 and features works of art made entirely from LEGO bricks. 

Consisting of over 2 million LEGO bricks, the exhibition took a team of artists, building and designing models, welding armatures as well as and a team that handled the logistics and installations of the traveling exhibitions about 15,000 hours of designing and building. GRPM Director of Marketing and Communication, Christie Bender, said the exhibition is a sight to see. 

“This exhibition is amazing in that it captures the intricacies of nature in LEGO bricks through art,” Bender said. “The combination of color and the animal and plant sculptures is phenomenal. It has you smiling as soon as you enter and you can’t wait to start exploring each to learn more.”

Not only is the exhibition visually pleasing, but it also carries an underlying message. Bender said each LEGO sculpture features a different animal species in order to stir up conversations about animal endangerment, mankind’s relationship with nature and the balancing of our ecosystems. 

“This exhibition explores the relationship between humans and nature and how everything is interconnected the way LEGO bricks are connected,” Bender said. “Visitors will leave with a better understanding of the interconnectedness and how their footprint impacts the natural world around us.”

Kenney also emphasizes the connectedness of the artwork. He said it’s important to him that each sculpture attempts to illustrate the connections found in nature and the different relationships that exist. 

“Fundamentally, the show is about connections,” Kenney said. “Just as LEGO pieces interconnect, everything in nature is interconnected in a delicate balance. Insects and plants have important relationships. Different species of animals have special relationships with each other. Animals have connections with their families just like we do.”

The planning for this exhibition began well in advance when GRPM reached out to Sean Kenney in the summer of 2018 with an inquiry about hosting one of his traveling exhibitions. After some planning, they had hoped for the exhibition to open in June 2020. Due to the closure of the museum in the spring of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the timeline was shifted up to now. 

As the museum adjusted its calendar for COVID-19 they also created new ways for people to experience the exhibition, one of which being private tours available outside of the museum’s business hours. 

Up to eight people now have the ability to take a private tour of “Wild Connections” led by a GRPM staff member. 

The tour begins by entering through the staff member entrance and the guests are then given exclusive access inside the exhibit for one and a half hours. Throughout the tour, the GRPM staff member will share information about the pieces of the exhibit and on Sean Kenney. The group will also have time to venture through the exhibit on their own. 

Masks are required throughout the tour and all guests will be asked to complete a COVID-19 questionnaire screening before being allowed into the museum. 

The exhibit is also open for school groups to visit and offers virtual guided programs for students such as STEAM: Grand River Water Quality Lab, Discover: What’s in your Watershed, and Investigate: Plant and Animal Adaptations.  

Bender said the museum is making a point to be as accessible as possible for the community during this time. 

“We are working to meet the community where they are comfortable and healthy to explore the Museum–whether that be in person or virtually,” said Bender. 

Advance ticket purchases are required for entry into the museum. “Wild Connections” has a timed entry, meaning when visitors purchase tickets they will pick the time of the day they wish to enter the exhibit. Each hour has a capacity on the number of tickets that can be purchased, and Bender said they will likely sell out.