It is a common sight to see first-time visitors to this megalopolis painfully bending their necks backwards for most of the day, their jaws dropping, gazing at the town’s famous skyscrapers. Awe is doubtlessly the emotion they are feel, but New York does not possess the monopoly of places that produce such an emotion: The Chinese Wall, the Parthenon, the Great Canyon. There is, however, an emotion that only a place like New York City can inspire: smallness.
Many might imagine what it would be like to be taller –much, much taller– to dispel that diminishing feeling that overwhelms them. Their conservation instincts are probably making them wish they were 87 times closer to the sky than their present sizes allow them to be, so they could suddenly be able to peek into, say, what the occupiers of the 43rd floor at One World Trade Center are doing, just by standing next to it; or to literally look down on Lady Liberty, with its eternally rising arm barely –and less-than-majestically– reaching their navels.
As it turns out, now they can do just that at, out of all places, Times Square, where the exhibition “Gulliver’s Gate,” named after Jonathan Swift’s immortal book from the 18th century, will open at the beginning of May. The $40 million project is the brainchild of Eiran Gazit, a retired Israeli major who spent 14 years in the military. Thinking about what to do after retirement, Gazit has been quoted saying “Whatever field I chose after the military, it had to be one without secrets.”
It seems only fitting that the cosmopolitan capital of the world would be the stage to bring miniaturized versions of hundreds of historical landmarks from around the globe. From the pyramids in Egypt, through places as diverse as the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, the Kremlin, the rebuilt Parthenon, all the way to New York’s own Brooklyn Bridge, making it possible to go from one side of the planet to the other in just a few steps.
The models may be small, but the numbers behind them are quite the opposite: the exhibit, expanding over 49,000 square feet of space leased out by Jared Kushner, displays 1,000 trains with about 12,000 wagons; over 10,000 cars and trucks. Many of those vehicles moving over a network of trains, roads, highways, bridges, and tunnels, spreading 475 feet. Not to mention a fully operational airport, where planes land and take off. And the planners are thinking about adding a model of the international space station, which will hover over visitors’ heads.
Buildings and landmarks aren’t the only things that will get miniaturized for this exhibit. Presently visitors to the preview can, literally, immerse themselves in the exhibit, having their whole bodies scanned inside a quasi-futuristic sphere that has dozens of cameras attached to it. The images are fed to a 3D printer that sculpts a 1:87 scale figure of the visitor that is then placed somewhere in the miniature world, officially making them part of the exhibition –or, as the organizers call them, “citizens.”
Many of the structures are still being built, but those finished are skillfully detailed: The rugged bricks of the Brooklyn Bridge; the rust covering parts of Lady Liberty; the accumulated dirt in the otherwise colorful walls of the favelas.
It inevitably makes one think of countless Hollywood films that have the protagonists shrink to the size of an ant. The kind of films that can make small children believe such things are possible. But as skillfully detailed as the exhibition is, it will face a more sophisticated young audience than it might have had to deal with just a decade ago, before children could look up information from across the world in a matter of seconds.
That seemed to be clear when the father of a four-year-old girl pointed at the miniaturized version of the Statue of Liberty and mischievously told the little girl: “Look. See? I told you it was smaller than they show it on T.V.” The girl, intensively looking toward the model, appeared confused for just an instant. Then turned her face, almost indignantly to her father to proclaim, “Daddy, that’s not the real one!”