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MASS A-PEEL

The banana-eating artist from Art Basel says the NFT boom is a blessing

Artwork showing Georgian artist David Datuna eating a banana
Dole Sunshine Company
Hungry for more.
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published Last updated on

In some eyes, many NFT transactions can be classified as absurdist propositions. Trading cryptocurrency for a catalog of weird digital assets—from tweets,YouTube videos, odious sound clips, virtual sofas, renderings of luxury bags, or even news articles—can read like a prank.

So it makes perfect sense that David Datuna, the Georgia-born artist who gained wide notoriety for brazenly eating Maurizo Catellan’s $120,000 absurdist banana art at the 2019 Art Basel Miami fair, would enter the scene. Earlier this week, he revealed his first foray into NFTs with a series of five mixed media collages being auctioned on Rarible starting on May 6. (The cryptoart online marketplace also has a listing for a gif of Datuna’s infamous Art Basel banana moment—an “art performance” titled “Hungry Artist.”)

Dole Sunshine Company
David Datuna with his artwork, “Sunshine for All”

Unlike traditional art world gatekeepers who are skeptical about cryptoart, Datuna approaches NFTs without mockery. He belongs to the camp that believes they can be a democratizing force in the elite art world, and argues they could benefit unknown, “starving artists” without the gallery representation to get a showcase in a big art fair, like Art Basel.

“It’s a very good, cool platform. I don’t know what its future will be, but when I first came to America, I remember how hard it was to find a gallery [representation]. You go for from gallery to gallery, to try to sell your art. And when I say sell your art I mean sell yourself,” recalls Datuna. “This platform is great for artists because they can meet audiences directly. There was no way that could’ve been done 20 years ago.”

Datuna, whose work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, is still propelled by that outsider spirit. He isn’t inclined to judge some of the more off-beat NFT offerings, as he did with Catellan’s banana. “Everything that comes out of our emotions is art. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or physical,” he contends. “You don’t have to be a professor to understand it.” The winning bidder of one of his NFTs will receive the physical equivalent.

But has he seen any absurd NFTs he’d like to eat? “I’m a hungry artist. I want to eat all the NFTs,” he laughs.

NFTs for charities

Titled Sunshine for All, Datuna’s NFT series is a collaboration with the Singapore-based Dole Sunshine Company, the new $2 million innovation fund of the 170-year old multinational company, which is trying to raise funds for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. 

The project is among the string of charities and non-profit organizations vying to raise funds and share some of the public spotlight lavished on NFTs lately. “With the rise of NFTs, we recognized a unique opportunity and a true convergence of the way we do business and reach consumers,” explains Pier Luigi Sigismondi, president of Dole Sunshine. He explains cryptoart has become particularly popular in Singapore since crypto investor Metakoven, who is based in the country, won the historic Christie’s auction for Beeple NFT. “The auction and successful bid created a lot of excitement and discussion in the country. We are now channelling this wave of NFTs and the excitement this is bringing to both the technology and art world to address a global issue,” Sigismondi wrote in an email. He says they chose to partner with Datuna because they were impressed with his social advocacy and his reputation as the “hungry artist” meshes with Dole’s messaging of ending global hunger.

Proceeds from several high profile NFT sales have benefited charities. For instance, Jack Dorsey gave his $2.5 million take from selling his first tweet to the Give Directly’s Africa Response COVID-19 efforts and Beeple is harnessing his newfound celebrity to address the alarming environmental toll involved in mining NFT tokens. Last month, the South Carolina graphic designer sold another multi-million-dollar NFT that benefits the Open Earth Foundation, a non-profit that is raising awareness about climate change issues in the digital art space.

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