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Danny Cortes with his artwork at Gotham
Photograph: courtesy of Landmark and Gotham

Artist Danny Cortes is recreating iconic NYC landmarks in miniature form

From busy bodegas to tagged dumpsters, these works by Danny Cortes are incredibly and accurately detailed.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

The graffiti-covered mailboxes, dumpsters and ice boxes that fill New York City’s sidewalks have been a staple of this city’s aesthetic for decades. Now? They’re works of art.

Artist Danny Cortes, a born-and-raised New Yorker from Bushwick, makes the most accurate (and cute!) recreations of these and other NYC objects and scenes. The only difference is that they’re mini models that can fit in the palm of your hand, including a bodega, a newspaper vending machine, a payphone, an intersection light pole, a blue mailbox, the Keith Haring “Crack is Wack” mural, the shuttered Willie’s Burgers and even the iconic Apollo Theater.

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Danny Cortes’ street post and mailbox miniatures
Photograph: courtesy of Landmark and Gotham

They’re a sight to behold. How someone could get the gritty details just right and at such a tiny size is impressive and frankly must be seen to be believed. Some of Cortes’ works are now on view at Gotham, the new recreational cannabis dispensary in the East Village, and at the House of Cannabis, NYC’s weed museum, as part of an exhibit that pays homage to New York’s most iconic hip-hop landmarks put on by Landmark, curated by Kate Storch

When you go, you’ll immediately recognize these icons but getting up close to them is a study in Cortes’ process.

He often uses found objects in his home or on the street like shoe and cereal boxes and items like dollar store beads and matchsticks to create his miniatures, which can take just a few hours up to months at a time, he tells Time Out New York.

If I’m outside … I’m already thinking, what can I use for that pole right there? That’s how my mind works now,” he says. “Everything is useful.”

Danny Cortes’ dumpster miniature
Photograph: courtesy of Landmark and Gotham

He says the vibe he’s trying to capture in his minis is that of the gritty city he knew growing up in the 1980s and 90s. Some of the spots he’s recreated, like Willie’s Burgers in Harlem, no longer exist, so he digs online to find archival photos and footage as a template.

“It’s a certain nostalgic feeling … now it’s in the air—this nostalgic feeling everybody’s trying to get,” Cortes says. “And I want my art to be immortalized—that era, the ’80s, 90s and 2000s. The way we talk about the Egyptian pyramids to this day, I want to them talk about our era 500 years from now and I feel that that’s gonna happen because the collectors are helping me get there.”

Now, he’s creating fictional New York cityscapes that still evoke that era but tell a story of two graffiti rivals—Cortes and Chavito. 

During the pandemic, Cortes was working at a Greenpoint homeless shelter doing maintenance and custodial work and in his downtime, he would work on these minis as a sort of hobby and creative outlet. When he started posting his work on Instagram and TikTok, he quickly gained a following. The first piece to go viral was his recreation of the street pole at Brooklyn’s Knickerbocker Avenue and Dekalb Avenue. Cortes filled commission requests for numerous NYC icons, from a Harlem bodega to a subway car. And suddenly, he was making art for a living.

Now in his early 40s, Cortes has sold his work at the Sotheby’s auction house and has show openings in Europe, starting with Berlin.

“It’s never too late. I wanna be that voice that it is never too late,” Cortes says. “It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, it all starts with you. You can create your own world like I did. It’s real, I’m living it.”

You can catch Danny Cortes’ work and other hip-hop artists’ work at Gotham and The House of Cannabis through March 24. 

Danny Cortes with his Willie’s Burgers miniature
Photograph: Shaye Weaver for Time Out New York

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