The camera is shaking and the cops aren’t happy.
“You realize you’re trespassing at this point, right,” a New York City police officer asks in a film by artist Danny Cole that was obtained by ARTnews. In it, Cole and his team of art handlers (complete with a crane operator) quickly install—guerrilla-style, seemingly—one his sculptures onto the balcony of a luxury residential building overlooking Manhattan’s High Line.
For legal reasons, Cole can’t admit whether the building’s management had sanctioned the installation. “What I can say is that I went out in the middle of the night with a group of my friends, we dropped it on this balcony with a crane, a few people on our team got trespassing charges by the city but we were able to make it to the finish line,” Cole told ARTnews via phone. “And then I went and DJed the Byline release party.”
For their part, the apartment management issued the following statement: “The building embraces the artwork, and the developer Jeffrey Levine concedes it may have found a new home.”
Cole, 23, is known for his trademark Creatures: doodled, simple, round-faced humanoids that represent his practice. He has animated them for a Coachella concert at just 16, turned them into successful NFTs vouched for by internet entrepreneur Gary Vee, used them as mascots for his fashion line, and more—this is the ever-evolving merry-go-round that is Cole’s charismatic brand-turned-social scene-turned-art-turned life.
The work that Cole deposited near the High Line was originally made for the launch of his “Creature World” fashion brand at the spring’s New York Fashion Week. The 12-foot tall sculpture of a yellow Creature was slated to be destroyed, but Cole wanted to extend its life further, so he used the foam sculpture as a cast, covered it in a hard shell and poured in steel, creating a one-ton sculpture he dubbed The Creature.
Public art like The Creature—something that wasn’t, as far as we know, commissioned—walks the knife’s edge between gift and gutsy self-promotion. And looking at art history, many famous artists, from Keith Haring, to KAWS and Banksy, got their start by putting their work on the street, getting the public interested in their work before galleries. But Cole’s thinking about the role of street art became more romantic after an encounter with graffiti artists a few years back. Once, while walking over the Williamsburg Bridge, he noticed graffiti artists climbing up to tag its towers. Cole started a conversation with them, and was surprised to hear that they weren’t describing the work as art or vandalism or a way to get their name out there but as a different kind of gesture.
“They described tagging as being sort of this moon landing-type activity,” said Cole. “Where it’s not about me as an individual, it’s about the fact that a person went somewhere that other people didn’t think a person could go.”
It was a familiar feeling for him. In 2021, Cole and a couple of his friends covered the “O” in the Hollywood sign with a painting of a cow they had made together in a backyard in LA. They were pursued by the police, both on foot and by helicopter, and eventually landed in jail. But the first thing a friend asked Cole after posting his bail was, “When are you going to do that again?”
The cow painting wasn’t promotional or political. “We wanted to do something everyone could have fun with,” said Cole, “At a time when the news was so tough.”
The day after its installation, Cole returned to the High Line to watch people watch The Creature.
“I just watched and listened as hundreds of people stopped and had this moment with the people around them that wouldn’t have otherwise happened,” said Cole, glowing with pride. “That was the point: the surprise, the joy, the ability to escape the craziness of surviving in New York, just to have a moment to like stop and smile and just be like, ‘What the fuck is this?’”