Cheer and Going in the Magic House
Like most college students, I never really matured past age 12 and am constantly surprised as society heaps more and more expectations for adult behavior. Wash your sheets regularly. Schedule your own dentist appointments, and don’t forget to make sure they accept your insurance. Sign a lease that says you’re legally responsible for this residence and that you definitely won’t set fire to the kitchen with one of the 19 flammable things underneath the sink, all of which you absolutely need to keep the place clean. To escape all these pressures, I’ve adopted nostalgia as my opiate of choice. All it takes to summon the comfort of grade-school concerns is the first few chords of “All the Small Things” or a sober discourse about whether Spongebob or Tommy Pickles is the definitive Nicktoon.
After hearing about “The Art of the Brick,” an art exhibition of Lego sculptures at the Magic House, I immediately settled on where I’d acquire my next fix of wistfulness. Legos were my preferred toy as a child. My parents predicted a steady career in engineering, but I’m majoring in linguistics, which is just as marketable, right? With great enthusiasm, I showed the advertisement to my photographer friend, whose pupils rapidly dilated to the size of cactus buttons. We were ready for a trip back to our childhood.
Much to our, umm, relief, the Magic House isn’t St. Louis’s premier psilocybin dispensary. Instead, the Magic House is also known as the St. Louis Children’s Museum, so the mycophobic need not fear—there are no fungal illusions awaiting you. It was pretty clear as my photographer friend parked the car that this is the destination for all the best second-grade field trips. A line of screaming eight year olds lurks in every corner of this museum (an enormous, renovated Victorian mansion), eager to ambuscade. “We can’t stop here,” I told my companion, “This is brat country!”
But we stayed, though the Lego exhibit turned out to be a downer. All the sculptures were the work of one artist, Nathan Sawaya. Every piece was well articulated, but Sawaya’s forms were, for the most part, unoriginal or derivative. The novelty of using Lego as a medium wears off as the viewer appreciates that the techniques to represent a nose with little plastic bricks are limited. Many of Sawaya’s figures owe their confidence to Auguste Rodin’s work but lack the master’s subtlety. Thanks to bland symmetry, the Lego men appear too rigid. Sawaya’s work fails to represent human form and, more importantly, never expresses anything. To be blunt, the exhibit’s tone seemed to be the “look what I can do” of a high-school art show than the “look at what I’m trying to say” one expects. Perhaps bronze and marble are more plastic than Lego.
The rest of the Magic House proved a capable pick-me-up after the etherizing effects of “The Art of the Brick.” Most of the exhibits sought to educate younger children. For example, downstairs there was a room for each branch of the federal government (for some reason, we felt unaccountably paranoid in the Supreme Court’s chambers). Upstairs were science demonstrations, through which we had to speed because of time constraints. We especially enjoyed a room all about bubbles and the Van de Graaff generator on the third floor, which literally made my hair stand on end.
Overall, my photographer friend and I had a fun experience in the Magic House, even though we weren’t the intended audience. Among the kaleidoscopes and oversized musical instruments, it was easy to feel young again. If my munchkin cousins ever visit me in St. Louis, the Magic House is the first place I’d recommend to my aunt and uncle. And though the Lego exhibit alone isn’t enough to satisfy a nostalgia withdrawal, if you really need a trip down memory lane, the Magic House is highly recommended.