From a few feet away, many of the exhibit’s pieces could appear as another artistic take on flags — such as American, British and the rainbow stripes widely used to represent the gay pride movement.
But layered on top of those iconic symbols are clear-rimmed glasses, which serve a dual purpose. They represent the numerous perspectives held by viewers. And from close up, they provide a lens into what composes the symbols.
David Datuna, whose artwork is currently featured at Greenwich’s Gilles Clement Gallery, describes himself as a “conceptual artist.” Gilles Clement, an interior designer and gallery owner, made it clear he understands the ideas portrayed through these pieces, Datuna said at his exhibition Thursday. This was crucial to his decision to partner with Clement, the artist said.
“This is not my artwork,” Datuna said. “It’s part of my soul, and he’s the perfect guy to handle it.”
When viewers of Datuna’s work smash their faces up against the glasses, they see quotes and pictures relating to the flag’s corresponding country or movement. The hidden details revealed on an American flag sculpture include images of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, a John F. Kennedy for President button as well as pictures of Lady Gaga and Steve Jobs.
Datuna is known for these political pieces.
His 12-foot American flag sculpture comprised of 2,000 eyeglass lenses and 400 famous portraits titled “Portrait of America” gave new life to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery a few years ago. And his work “Make America Stronger Together,” where Datuna mashed up the campaign slogans of last year’s presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, drew widespread attention November when it was parked in front of Manhattan’s Trump Tower.
The idea for using eyeglasses as a medium in his artwork was inspired by his time working at an eyeglass store. And growing up in the Soviet Republic of Georgia before his parents sold everything to fund their move to the United States influences the recurring theme of freedom in his political pieces, according to Michael Huter, managing director at Kiwi Arts Group and director of the documentary, “Datuna: Portrait of America.” The documentary was screened prior to Thursday evening’s exhibition at the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas at Greenwich Plaza.
Huter shadowed Datuna for a year and witnessed the artist discover and face a lung cancer diagnosis, craft his exhibit that appeared in the Smithsonian and lay the ground for transforming art into a bridge for future generations.
“Everything comes back to celebrating one’s own cultural identity with undertones of freedom,” Huter said of Datuna’s work. “He’s trying to build a bridge to a 21st century audience by making art more approachable, and that’s what he did.”
Integral to why Datuna’s Smithsonian exhibit made such a splash was its landmark use of Google Glass. For Datuna, he said, it’s not about using the wearable technology that’s important but, instead, how it engages new and young audiences.
The documentary shows a Smithsonian representative describing Datuna’s as “the single most successful exhibit in 30 years,” Huter said, adding the artist’s use of famous portraits prompted visitors to explore other parts of the Smithsonian where the originals hung nearby.
Datuna’s artwork can be seen during the remainder of his exhibit at Gilles Clement Gallery, located at 45 E. Putnam Ave.
MBennett@greenwichtime.com, 203-625-4411; Twitter @Macaela_