'BART Basel' guerrilla art pranksters take over SF public transit – SFGATE

A group gathers at the Embarcadero BART stop during the unsanctioned art event BART Basel.
As art collectors and globe-trotting fashionistas descended on Miami last weekend for the yearly Art Basel conference, another far less exclusive event took place here in San Francisco. “BART Basel,” a roaming public transit pop-up where anyone could step up to a podium and present a piece of artwork, debuted for the first and likely only time.
“I just told everyone to bring objects that were important to them. It wasn’t a very planned out art show. Everyone got the email the day before,” says organizer and “head curator” Danielle Baskin.
The event took place on Saturday afternoon roaming across six different BART stops (Embarcadero, Civic Center, 16th Street Mission, Glen Park, Colma and San Francisco International Airport). Even though it was last minute and quite unsanctioned, BART Basel featured very official-looking production value. A professionally printed step-and-repeat banner was hung on platform walls, and a red carpet led up to a white foam podium with clear plastic covering that temporarily housed each piece of art. A DJ randomly showed up, playing soft ambient music during the artist talks and upbeat dance music as the group packed up their materials and boarded trains to move between stations.
Announced via an email blast, tweets and an overly serious website that gently suggested “eclectic formal attire is preferred within the galleries,” the event drew a crowd that Baskin estimated to include 120 attendees and 40 open mic-style presenters (see a public gallery of photos and video here). Guests could RSVP as “gallery reps” to help facilitate the whole process, and there were even some official-looking BART Basel wristbands and lanyards. 
Organizer and “head curator” Danielle Baskin inspects a piece of art at the roaming unsanctioned art show BART Basel, which took place on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
For those who follow Baskin online, the goofball nature and professional polish of the event shouldn’t come as a surprise. You might recognize her from such stunts as posting sidewalk boulders for sale on Craigslist, faking a blue check verification program for houses, creating an app that connects strangers over the phone and, most recently, draping a Spirit Halloween banner over the Google sign at the company’s Embarcadero offices.
Whereas her Google stunt was promptly shut down by security and the banner ended up in the trash, this stunt went off without a hitch, partly because they only spent 10 to 20 minutes at each platform.
“We were just using BART. We got tickets, and then we were waiting for the train. If there’s an issue, we’re stuck waiting there for the next train. Because we were moving from platform to platform it was fine. If we had set up at one station the entire day, it would’ve been a little different and we would need permission, but it worked fine as this rogue traveling art show.”
A presenter at the roaming unsanctioned art show BART Basel, which took place on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
As far as the art itself, the objects ranged from parodies to exceedingly personal, with each presenter giving a short speech introducing the artwork as photographers buzzed about, which added to the allure. Someone simply brought water, another shared a notebook they had for many years. There were some items from childhood, like a tin of tickets from every carnival ride the presenter went on in their childhood (attendees were welcome to take them, and did). More than one person brought a handmade stuffed animal, and in reference to the hard-partying reputation of the actual Art Basel event, someone showed off a bag of coke (miniature bottles, not drugs). A pair of stragglers who had just arrived on a flight from SFO presented their writing and their girlfriend, who put her head inside the display casing.
As one might expect in San Francisco circa 2021, someone showed off an NFT. 
A presenter at the roaming unsanctioned art show BART Basel, which took place on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Although no art was for sale, in a sense, BART Basel did serve as an unofficial fundraiser. “One hundred and twenty people went and went all the way to SFO, that’s a lot of revenue for BART. Over a thousand dollars,” says Baskin. 
She doesn’t plan to replicate the prank again anytime soon and expects her upcoming projects to be more digital-based than event-driven, but the experience did prove that maybe BART could one day throw its own roaming art gala.
“There could be a weekend where there is artwork stationed all over the Bay Area, and you can ride freely to the platforms and maybe get a little map, and spend the day on BART and hop in and out,” she says. “… A friend described their experience of attending this event as a teaser trailer to a larger art show.”
A pair of strangers who stumbled onto the roaming BART Basel after arriving from San Francisco International Airport.
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Dan Gentile is the culture editor at SFGATE. He moved to San Francisco from Austin, TX where he worked as a vinyl DJ and freelance writer covering food and music. His writing has been featured in Texas Monthly, American Way, Rolling Stone, Roads & Kingdoms, VICE, Thrillist and more. Email: Dan.Gentile@sfgate.com.


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