Seeing the Light

Evening event at the Arboretum offers new perspective on celebrated art

FLIGHTS OF FANCY
The Arboretum’s Lego exhibit is charming by day — and magical at night.

As one might expect, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, hummingbirds, flowers, and even a family of deer inhabit the manicured gardens of the North Carolina Arboretum in South Asheville. Less expected: These iconic flora and fauna are larger than life and made of half a million little pieces of plastic. 

They’re impressive to see during the day, but at night — when they’re uplighted — they take on a wholly different perspective of depth and creativity. Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks is an award-winning traveling exhibit of statues that shows what one man — Brooklyn artist Sean Kenney — can do with childhood toys. And now it’s taken on a fresh dimension.

The 16 sculptures are on view at the Arboretum through November 1. Come sundown on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays this summer, the venue also sponsors ArborEvenings, featuring the lighted art along with live music and beer, wine, and light food for sale from the campus’ Bent Creek Bistro.

“The LEGO sculptures will come to the fore as darkness falls and the garden backgrounds fade,” describes Clara Curtis, the Arboretum’s senior director of mission delivery. “We purposefully chose evening hours for this event so that the colorful LEGO bricks and our lighting will show up.” In the daytime, the sculptures are strategically placed in the gardens to complement seasonal landscape plantings. “At dark,” Curtis notes, “those details fade.” Then the sculptures really pop. And being outdoors in midsummer, especially in a season of unprecedented limitations, is a clear part of the attraction.

This is the third time Nature Connects has been installed at the Arboretum, the first being in 2013. Each time, the gardens see record numbers of visitors. Along with new sculptures, some of the favorites have returned. Since its beginning eight years ago, the exhibit has traveled many times from coast to coast, and gathered accolades and awards not only from patrons, but from art critics entranced with the unlikely medium.

“Visitors are in for a real treat,” says Kenney, reached at his studio. “I love the way my sculptures look when they’re lit up at night. We spend a lot of time making complicated, subtle curves with the stepping of the LEGO bricks, but the broad, bright midday sunlight can often flatten those features out. 

“The nighttime lighting shows off the subtleties and expressiveness of my work.”

The North Carolina Arboretum (100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393) hosts ArborEvenings in conjunction with Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks. The event is held most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through September, from 8-11pm. Admission is $5 (the regular parking fee does not apply); proceeds support Arboretum educational programs. For more information, call 828-665-2492 or see ncarboretum.org.