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How miniatures of New York landmarks made a janitor the star of museums and shopping malls


Alina Prikhodko

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Mailboxes and trash cans covered in graffiti are an integral part of the New York aesthetic. And now they have become works of art. According to Time-out, a Bushwick artist makes miniature replicas of the city's iconic landmarks.

Danny Cortez born and raised in New York. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he cleaned homeless shelters and did minor repairs, and now he's making highly accurate replicas of landmarks that can fit in the palm of your hand. These include a bodega, a newspaper vending machine, a pay phone, an intersection light pole, a blue mailbox, Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack" mural, the closed Willie's Burgers restaurant and even the iconic Apollo Theater.

The intricate detailing in such a tiny size is impressive. Some of Cortez's work is now on display at Gotham, a new cannabis store in the East Village. In addition, his work can be seen at the House of Cannabis Museum, an exhibition dedicated to the most iconic landmarks of New York.

The artist often uses found shoe or cereal boxes in his work, as well as beads and matches from the dollar store. Creating one miniature can take from several hours to several months.

“If I’m on the street, I’m already thinking about what I can use for, say, this pole. This is how my brain works now,” he admitted. “Everything can be useful in my work.”


He says his miniatures try to capture the gritty city feel he knew growing up in the 1980s and '90s. Some of the places he recreated, like Willie's Burgers in Harlem, no longer exist, so Cortez scours the Internet to find archival photos and footage for inspiration. Now the artist creates fictional cityscapes of New York that are still reminiscent of that era.

On the subject: Small Is Beautiful: 5 Reasons to Go to the NYC Miniature Show

During the pandemic, Cortez worked at a homeless shelter in Greenpoint doing maintenance and cleaning. In his spare time, he worked on miniatures as a hobby and creative outlet. When Danny started posting his work on Instagram and TikTok, he quickly gained a following. The first work to become widely known was the recreation street pole at Knickerbocker Avenue and Dekalb Avenue.

Now the man is over 40, and he makes a living from art. Cortes sells his works at Sotheby's and holds exhibitions in Europe.

“It's never too late. “I want to be the one who says it’s never too late,” Cortez admitted. – No matter what situation you are in, it all starts with you. You, like me, can create your own world. This is real, I live it.”

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