David Datuna, the New York-based artist who famously ingested Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 duct-taped banana installation at Art Basel Miami Beach, strikes again. At a new pop-up exhibition running through this weekend in Chelsea, Manhattan, Datuna (aka the “Hungry Artist”) is inviting all of us to reenact the “performance piece” that shot him to viral infamy. But this time around, it’s for a worthy cause.
Titled The Hungry Artist, Datuna’s exhibition at Galleria Ca’ d’Oro on Manhattan’s 10th Avenue is comprised of common food items he gathered from nearby bodegas. Those include soft drinks, bubble gum, Tic Tacs, M&M’S, vegetables, and fruits, with a place of honor reserved for the infamous banana. Instead of duct-tape, Datuna used simple metal brackets to hang the items on the gallery’s walls.
For those who can’t make it to the exhibition, the food items are also offered for sale on an online shop. And similar to Cattelan’s banana, they come with a “certificate of performance authenticity.”
Each object is available in three editions, priced at different rates to make the object more affordable (Datuna cites Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans as an inspiration). For instance, if you want to invest in the first edition of the banana (15 items), it’ll cost you $450. But for the second edition (30 items) you’ll pay $300, and the third (54 items) will sell for just $150. All proceeds from the sales will go to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where Datuna has been receiving lung cancer treatment for the past seven years.
With 3,000 items in stock, the artist is hoping to raise $1 million for the hospital.
Upon entering the gallery, Datuna offers me one of the objects, a Ferrero Raffaello coconut candy. “First we eat the art,” the artist said with a smile and unwrapped his candy. I politely reject the offer, saying I’ll save mine as a collector’s item.
The world got to know Datuna last December when he infringed on Cattelan’s absurd artwork to the eyes of hundreds of shocked fairgoers and probably millions on the internet.
“It made me more famous with people outside the art world,” Datuna told Hyperallergic. “Half the people thought I’m an idiot who just eats a banana, but the other half got it.”
“When Maurizio Cattelan put a banana on the wall, he said this is art now, trying to be the new Warhol,” Datuna explained. “I say if you communicate with art and interact with it, that’s also art.”
“And you can eat this art,” he continued. “The art is not the banana. It’s your communication with it.”
In comes an exuberant young man in a long blazer, a double buttoned suit, and a red cashmere scarf. He charges at the banana installation, peels it off, and devours it while live-streaming it on his phone. “A creative revolution is happening, which you are all witnessing,” said Christiano Boria to his social media audience. Boria, a 25-year-old investment banker, described himself as a Datuna fan who came by to pay tribute to the “hungry artist.”
On the other side of the gallery, R. Couri Hay, a veteran New York publicist and a friend of Datuna’s, was already chugging down one of the first edition packs of M&M’s.
“I was so impressed with when David ate the banana in Miami,” Hay told Hyperallergic. “Cattelan started the conversation, and David finished it.” The publicist continued to argue that Datuna started an “art revolution,” which then continued with the Mexican art critic Avelina Lésper who recently placed a soda onto a glass sculpture by artist Gabriel Rico, and shattered it to pieces.
Gavin Simmons, an artist who came with Hay to the opening, shared his profound reflections on Datuna’s works. “It reasserts Warhol’s idea of pop art, consumerism, and how we respond to mass production, waste, and at the same time toxic masculinity and representation of…”
“Oh my god, he’s so intellectual, I’m dead,” Hay interpreted loudly to express his admiration for Simmon’s eloquence.
“I think you have to have some level of humor or sincerity in your work,” Simmons continued his analyses. “David finds a lot of humor in the real.”
Soon enough, the gallery was filled with fans, friends, and passersby who recognized Datuna from the exhibition’s windows display (a banana, lettuce, and a lemon).
“I was walking by and thought this might be related to the Art Basel Miami banana story,” said Josh Miller, a young artist living in Manhattan’s Upper West. “Come to find out that he’s the one who ate it.”
When asked to assess the exhibition he said, “I don’t know whether to be hypercritical or to take it for what it is. I kind of want to take it for what it is.”
Two other curious pedestrians walked and asked if eating the displays would mean buying them. Datuna assured them that they won’t have to pay, which didn’t play too well with Lori Robinson, the gallery’s owner. “He’s letting people eat without paying,” she complained. “We’re trying to raise donations.”
But Datuna insisted, “Everything you do at the gallery with the artist’s permission is art.”
A great number of the attendants were friends of Datuna who came to support his cause. For almost a decade, the artist has been living with cancer, kept at bay with monthly chemotherapy treatments at Mt. Sinai.
“He never talks about it,” said his friend Vika. “He gives himself to people and to his art instead.”
When asked if he thinks about death, Datuna told Hyperallergic that prefers to focus on his time alive. “I love life, and art is my life,” he said.
His teenage son David and his older step-daughter Patricia, who attended the event, praised Datuna as a good father. “He’s been very supportive and loyal to me through difficult times in my life,” said Patricia.
Other friends described Datuna as kind, adventurous, and honest. William Armando Lugo, a fashion magazine editor and a friend of Datuna’s went as far as to say, “He’s my artistic prophet. I’ll follow him wherever he goes.”
By the end of the evening, more than 20 items had been bought or eaten. Datuna appeared glowing with happiness in the presence of his friends and family.
When I ventured to see Datuna’s exhibition, I was still under the impression that he is a small-time opportunist who’s trying to ride a little longer on Cattelan’s back. But I left it feeling moved by his life story and appreciative of his artistic integrity. Out on 10th avenue, a sudden hunger hit me. I took out the $450-worth Raffaello candy from my pocket, and ate it.
David Datuna’s The Hungry Artist coninues at Galleria Ca’ d’Oro (179 10th Ave, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 22.