The generosity of spirit that marked the grand opening of the Datuna Art Space in Long Island City was evident the moment we entered. David Datuna founded – and funded – the space, not to sell art, but to give back: to fellow artists and the community at large. This was a sprawling, open yet personal party in a 4,000 square foot former garage overlooking the Hudson that Datuna has reclaimed as his latest big idea. True to David’s magnanimous nature, two walls of tables groaned with a panoply of dinners and deserts to feed his 600 guests: foie gras, ceviche, fried fish, chicken, and wild rice salads; cheesecakes to chocolates. It was stunning: At most openings, you’re lucky to get cheap wine and a potato chip!
But, this is no ordinary art space. “I don’t call it a gallery, because we do not sell here,” the successful artist, who visits the Hamptons yearly, and will be featured again at Art Market, told us. Former art fair representative Alix Michel calls him “one of the most important artists living and working today.”
Datuna’s signature style utilizes eyeglass lenses that magnify or reduce layered, collaged and painted imagery. Look from afar, the paintings stand on their own. Look closely through the lenses, and/or Google glasses: there are underlying curated photographs, newspaper and magazine that tell a story.
A native of Georgia, whose father was jailed six times in fascist Russia for listening to Elvis Presley and other Western artists, David’s conceptual themes advance social consciousness for individual freedom as well as peaceable unity. His exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery drew a record 27,000 visitors and was called an important art history moment by Smithsonian Magazine. Other exhibits include at Art Basel, Lincoln Center, and the United States Congress Capitol Building for a private July 4th event. He made presentations of thematically linked works to Israel, Saudi Arabia, China, Georgia, and Moscow’s Red Square. A 2015 feature-length documentary film that traces Datuna’s journey from Tblisi, Georgia won Best Feature Film at the Raindance Film Festival.
His iconic ‘Viewpoint of Millions’ series explores different cultural perspectives. Recently, he put the interactive ‘Cloning Eternity’ in Washington Square Park. Prior to the 2016 election, he dropped a mobile art installation in front of Trump Tower titled ‘Make America Stronger Together,’ which traveled to Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Florida. He then flew pictures of Trump and Clinton around the Statue of Liberty.
In 2017, Datuna responded to America’s succession from the Paris Climate Agreement by presenting the President’s name in 10-foot ice letters, in Union Square Park, which summarily melted. He titled it ‘This Too Shall Pass.’
In 2013, he showed side-by-side images of Putin and Tsar Nicolas II in Moscow’s Red Square to illustrate the clash of civilizations. “I am the first to call Putin a fascist,” he told Hamptons.com. “I did a portrait of Putin from multiple images of the Mona Lisa to show, at that time, we didn’t know who he was. But, now we do. I hate this regime. I may have an accent, but I am very pro American. I am from Georgia and Russia still occupies us.”
In a synchronistic twist of fate, Datuna found his artistic vision in the first job he found when he came to America – in an eyeglass store he helmed for ten years. It was his last job as well. Today, his works command hundreds of thousands of dollars. Enough to cover 90 percent of his new rent and feed foie gras to all.
Why a no profit art center? “Six years I fought with lung cancer,” he explained. He subsequently established The Fund for Life, to help fight fatal diseases. “I don’t know how much time I have, but I want to spend every minute more to make life better and more interesting, to help my friends who are great artists, to make my city better, to make something important and to mold the next generation with art.” Datuna wants the space to show artists he champions and serve as a center for neighborhood kids to paint and possibly even show.
The 4,000 square foot former taxi garage has 25 foot ceilings, beautiful views, and lots of parking. It’s a few blocks from MoMA PS1, and across the street from the Google proposed space. The neighborhood is emerging as a new art hub. “It’s like Chelsea was ten years ago when I was taking my art from gallery to gallery,” David said.
“We may be just starting, but we have a big space and big plans.”
For more information, visit datuna.com.