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Globetrotting

News and notes from around the world

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

BRICK HOUSE
A sculptor calls on an unusual medium to represent the world

NEW YORK CITY — Bent over a large table littered with sketches, Sean Kenney works intently on a 12-inch-high sculpture of a tiki head. “When you love what you do,” he says, stepping back to inspect his creation, “you don’t even think about cutting corners.”

In a week or so, when Kenney’s piece is finished, he will send it to a client in Italy. Global shipping—and the prospect of breakage— is an anxiety for any sculptor, and Kenney is no exception. Like any other delicate artistic medium, Lego blocks can fall apart.

A slim man with cropped brown hair, Kenney is one of a handful of artists in the world who have been certified by Lego to create contemporary sculpture with its bricks. He opened his design shop eight years ago, in his mid-20s, abandoning a Park Avenue office and a six-figure salary as a software designer to take up a career as “a professional kid.”

This characterization is slightly misleading, though. Kenney’s larger pieces—such as the life-size, 95,000-brick polar bear he made for the Philadelphia Zoo—can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. His clients have included Google, Marriott hotels, JPMorgan chase, the New York Yankees and many private collectors.

Kenney works out of a bright, airy studio in Queens, surrounded by 2 million Lego pieces. On the walls, neat shelves contain completed sculptures: a Homer Simpson head, a street scene. Then there’s the stuff he’s working on now, like the 2 1/2-foot replica of the Chrysler Building that will be part of a solo exhibit next year.

“You could take art and make it very austere,” Kenney says, returning to the tiki head. “But we’ve got enough of that.” —ROBERT LEROSE

 

ROOM WITH A MEW
An Austrian café comes within a whisker of not opening

VIENNA — Sonja, Thomas, Momo, Moritz and Luca are relaxing in a coffee shop on Vienna’s Blumenstockgasse, not far from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, when Luca suddenly sits bolt upright, as if he’s just remembered something important, and starts licking the back of his left leg.

So it goes at Café Neko, Vienna’s only cat café. It was opened recently by Takako Ishimitsu, a native of Japan, where there are practically as many cat cafés as there are cats. The thinking behind the venture is that cat lovers who are unable to have animals of their own might find solace in a cappuccino and a quick pat.

A patron petting a fluffy ball in his lap agrees—the cats, he says, bring him happiness. Not everyone is so easily won over, though: It took Ishimitsu nearly three years to convince city officials that Neko wouldn’t represent a health hazard. Oblivious to this—and the fact that he and his four friends therefore almost didn’t get rescued from a nearby shelter—Luca quits licking his leg and turns his attention to a paw. —SARANSH SEHGAL

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