These Trippy ‘Approximations Of Utopia’ Artworks Are Taking Over Times Square

A digital collage depicting a futuristic World’s Fair will play on Times Square billboards at midnight every day in June.

(Marco Brambilla)

At the stroke of midnight every evening this June, the electronic billboards that douse New York’s Times Square in everlasting light will display the scintillating mirage of a futuristic World’s Fair. 

London-based filmmaker and artist Marco Brambilla’s latest digital collage, Approximations of Utopia, is christening the summer season of Midnight Moment, a project replacing ads with art on 92 billboards across Times Square for a burst each night. Brambilla debuted a Star Trek-inspired Times Square projection in 2013, but this time he’s honoring World’s Fairs.

(Marco Brambilla)

Brambilla has been making digital collages for 16 years, but he started using AI to parse scores of film samples while making King Size, a trippy animation memorializing Elvis that debuted on The Sphere in Las Vegas.

He kept using the contentious tech to create Heaven’s Gate (2021)—another maximalist pop culture collage whose glamor evokes the seven levels of purgatory. Heaven’s Gate debuted at Miami’s Perez Art Museum and went on to become part of U2’s Sphere set. 

(Marco Brambilla)

For Approximations of Utopia, however, Brambilla actually harnessed AI to help produce the visuals—all based on archival imagery from six World’s Fairs, starting with the 1958 edition in Brussels through the 2010 edition in Shanghai. Brambilla’s interest coincides with the 60th anniversary the most recent New York World’s Fair, which produced legendary innovations like the Unisphere—once the largest sphere in the world.

It still sits proudly in Queens, has a smaller twin in Columbus Circle, and appears at the start of his latest animation. Other noteworthy callouts in the piece include a pioneering urban housing concept titled “Habitat” from the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair and the looming “Tower of the Sun” from Osaka’s 1970 edition.

“The journey through these dynamic collages of the past leads the viewer to a yet unrealized Expo in the works, unbound from geography or time,” a press release explains.

(Marco Brambilla)

World’s Fairs might feel like relics of a bygone era, but they’re not. Smithsonian Magazine recently wrote that while America has moved on from the phenomenon, World’s Fairs have evolved from showcases of “the spoils of colonialism” to platforms used by host nations to brand themselves as international thought leaders. 

Approximations of Utopia is an evolution of the menacing allure that Heaven’s Gate encapsulates—and a foil to its cautionary tale. And while Brambilla told Courtney Love that making Heaven’s Gate left him feeling depleted, he told Maxim, “I felt decidedly optimistic in bringing [Approximations of Utopia] to life. It depicts a future of progress and harmony.” 

Brambilla’s no stranger to the big time, but partnering with Midnight Moment splashes his latest endeavor’s much-needed message across the bona fide center of Western civilization. “I lived in New York City most of my life, so I have been more times than I can remember,” he mused regarding Times Square. “It reflects the energy of the city itself, dynamic and always in flux.” 

(Marco Brambilla)

Eventually, Brambilla will make four works total in this series. Chapter one, Approximations of Utopia, will stream replete with sound starting at 11:57 p.m. and concluding at 12 a.m. all month long.