A dark figure stood dangerously close to the edge of the Empire State Building’s 26th floor. His naked body was rigid and leaned forward. Startled, a woman looked up and screamed, “Oh, my God! Someone call 911! He’s going to jump!”
But it wasn’t a suicidal man. It was a statue.
The statue is one of 31 others that make up the “Event Horizons” art exhibit, created by British artist Antony Gormley. Each statue is 6-feet-2-inches tall, and most can be found on ledges and rooftops of buildings, with four standing at eye-level around Madison Square Park. The statues are scaring — and confusing — many New Yorkers.
“I don’t get why it’s naked or who this is,” said David Park, 75, as he tapped the legs of a statue with his wooden cane.
The metal statues, brought in by the Madison Square Park Conservatory, were made from a mold of Gormley’s body. They appear rusted and stiff, with their arms to their sides and fingers pressed tightly together. The statues on the ground look straight ahead, while the ones on the building ledges look down at the streets below.
Details on the statues’ faces are minimal — they have closed eyes and no lips. And there are eight flat, circular knobs, about the size of silver dollars, dotting the statues’ torsos, which were used to remove the molds from Gormley’s body.
While the figures on the ground are made of iron and weigh about 1,400 pounds, the ones on buildings are made mostly of fiberglass and weigh about 75 pounds.
Because of the realistic appearance of the statues and their positions perched atop buildings, many Flatiron pedestrians believe they are suicidal jumpers.
“I started to get out my phone to call the police when I saw it up there,” said Margaret Jones, 36, as she pointed up to the statue on the Empire State Building. “Why else would someone be that close to the ledge if they weren’t going to jump?”
“I looked up and saw a man standing near the edge,” said Catherine Zimmers, 38. “I had an instant flash to what happened when people were jumping on 9/11, and my heart dropped.”
While the New York Police Department could not provide an exact figure of how many people call about these “possible jumpers,” one police officer said at least hundreds of calls have come in because of the statues.
In a written statement, Gormley said the intent of this exhibit was not to cause people to be alarmed, but to get them to slow down and notice their surroundings. Gormley came to New York City in August 2009 to scout out locations for his statues. Together with representatives from Madison Square Park Conservatory, Gormley decided that placing the statues as close to the ledges as possible would help with visibility and would add a dramatic effect.
When Zimmers was told about this, she shook her head in disbelief.
“Why would someone do this to the people in this city?” Zimmers said. “I still have nightmares about those people who felt there was no way out but to jump (on 9/11). I don’t need a reminder just because someone feels they are being creative.”
Gormley developed a large following in Europe after the release of his statue “Angel of the North,” which became one of England’s most famous statues. After a similar “Event Horizon” display along a London shoreline in 2007, Gormley decided he wanted to create an exhibit for New York City. This is his first public art exhibit in the United States.
Patricia Shiplett, a visual artist from Saskatoon, Canada, has been studying Gormley’s work. She didn’t think she would get to see the exhibit in person unless she went to London, but she said she was thrilled to see it on her trip to New York City.
“I think they’re actually beacons to what’s happening in the world,” Shiplett said. “I think they’re placed there to sort of observe mankind and maybe have us think a little bit about what we’re doing with the world.”
Others simply enjoy the experience of searching for the statues.
“It’s like a puzzle trying to figure out where they are hidden on the buildings,” said Alexa Kinsley, 20. “I like it.”
The statues are on exhibit until August 15.