A black-and-white image of a bowed figure emerging from a white stone column amid a devastated, dusty landscape
Still from Grimes's video New Gods, 2022



by Outland

UnicornDAO is one of many collecting DAOs that took shape during the last crypto bull market. These organizations pool resources and distribute ownership of digital art, making a bigger impact than any individual collector could. What sets UnicornDAO apart from other, structurally similar organizations is its focus on buying work by women and nonbinary artists. UnicornDAO also collects work involving performance and activism, such as “proof of protest” NFTs that serve as mementos of political actions—a move influenced by co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. Because of this you could say that UnicornDAO is not just a collection of digital art but also an incubator for new ideas about how to support artists who don’t have object-based practices. Several members of the DAO responded to questions from Outland in a Google Doc; the resulting text below details the story of UnicornDAO’s origins and missions, up to their recently announced partnership with Tezos.

Klara Vollstaedt: The Thought of You Is Bliss, 2022
A black-and-white digital line drawing of a short-haired woman cradling a unicorn in her arms
Glam Beckett: Unicorn Girl, 2023

UnicornDAO was initiated in 2022 by Nadya Tolokonnikova to address the underrepresentation of women and LGBTQ artists. We seek to challenge traditional norms and foster a more inclusive art ecosystem, aiming to democratize art and finance by highlighting and supporting underrepresented voices. Our supporters span the art and cryptocurrency sectors; they include artists, collectors, and curators.

NFTs have significantly expanded opportunities for artists by providing a platform for global exposure. Moreover, NFTs encourage creative experimentation across digital mediums, contributing to the evolution of art in the digital age. NFTs are particularly well-suited for artists engaged in performance or ephemeral art forms that have traditionally been overlooked by the art market.

Olive Allen is an artist who in 2022 burned her Russian passport and commemorated this action in an NFT, which she sold to raise funds for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. This work, which is in UnicornDAO’s collection, exemplifies the form of activism adopted by Tolokonnikova. We see it as both performance art and social practice. This perspective acknowledges the role of artistic expression in advocating for change, drawing parallels with historical movements where art served as a medium for political and social commentary.

A pixilated digital drawing a woman smirking and folding her arms. She has green hair and a unicorn horn emerging from her brow
Pussy Riot x Gremplin: Riot Girls #273, 2022

The decentralized structure of DAOs makes it possible to be more agile and responsive than traditional arts nonprofits. This model ensures transparency and aligns members’ contributions closely with the DAO’s objectives, facilitating a dynamic approach to supporting the arts and fostering innovation.

Grimes joined the board of UnicornDAO in May 2022. Like all board members, she purchased a seat, and the revenue from that purchase was directly channelled into funding for art projects by women and nonbinary people. But she also donated proceeds from the sale of a music video to support the development of our DAO in its earliest stages of formation. The exclusive 1/1 NFT was minted for the video of New Gods (2020), a song on her fifth studio album “Miss Anthropocene.” The album’s name puns on the words “miss,” “misanthrope,” and “Anthropocene”—the term proposed to denote the current geological age of the Earth reflecting human impact on the environment. It’s a loose concept album about a goddess of climate change inspired by Roman mythology and villainy.

Olive Allen: Passport Burning, 2022

Our collection strategy is informed by an interpretation of feminist and political art that embraces a range of artistic expressions in support of our foundational goal of promoting underrepresented voices. While not all works in our collection overtly convey feminist or political messages, their inclusion reflects our commitment to diversity and the belief that meaningful dialogue and change can arise from a wide spectrum of practices. This approach allows us to honor the legacy of feminist art while adapting to the evolving landscape of contemporary art.

A woman seated on a white horse waves a white flag. She is on a field with brown horses grazing in the background
Still from Marina Abramović’s The Hero 25FPS, 2022

The works we collect are often supported by curators and members who push an agenda of artwork that is difficult to package and sell in the traditional art world. UnicornDAO going against bias is an act of rebellion within itself. As Marina Abramovic has said: “I’ve always been a soldier. The entire aim of my work is to elevate the human spirit.” Incidentally, we were one of the biggest collectors of Abramovic’s first NFT collection, The Hero 25FPS (2022), produced in collaboration with Circa.

Last year we received a great amount of support from the Tezos Foundation for our live programming, including Tolokonnikova’s exhibition “Putin’s Ashes” at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles, and “Postgender,” curated by Alice Scope and Chanel Verdult at Vellum LA. This has grown into a partnership, where we’ll collect work on Tezos and publish monthly collection reports about the art we acquire there. NFTs minted on Tezos feel underground, punk, reminiscent of the Tumblr era. Through searching for women and queer artists on Tezos we’ve found copious amounts of activist art, proof of protest, and fundraising initiatives that we hope to continue amplifying through our partnership with the chain.

—as told to Brian Droitcour

Essays produced in a writing workshop hosted by Outland and Art Blocks offer new perspectives on art, code, and web3. The Generative Art Issue

A softly blurred and glowing digital image evoking braided threads, folding over each other in swirling patterns
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