A Punning Artist Turned Art Fair Prankster Plants a Pot of ‘Art Basil’ at Gagosian’s Booth

You say Basel, I say basil.

Massimo Agostinelli with
Massimo Agostinelli with "Art Basil" at Art Basel, 2018. ©Sébastien Bozon and Alexandra Pauli

The gadfly prankster strikes again—and this time, he’s bringing the puns.

One year after turning a garbage can at the Messeplatz into a “readymade” work of art during Art Basel 2017, artist Massimo Agostinelli played another lighthearted prank during the VIP opening of this year’s event—surreptitiously placing a basil plant at the booth of mega-dealer Larry Gagosian.

Basil at Basel—get it?

Agostinelli bought the plant from a nearby market and then placed it in front of a massive John Chamberlain sculpture flanked by Roy Lichtenstein and Mark Rothko works. Speaking to artnet News, he claimed that the presence of the plant immediately caused a stir, with a mini-crowd forming around it and taking pictures. Two media photographers even turned up to document the plant and asked Agostinelli to pose with his plant.

At that point, Gagosian and his team realized what was happening—”but surprisingly they didn’t seem to mind,” according to Agostinelli.

Artist Massimo Agostinelli placing <i>Art Basil</i> on the floor of the Gagosian booth at Art Basel. ©Sébastien Bozon and Alexandra Pauli

Artist Massimo Agostinelli placing Art Basil on the floor of the Gagosian booth at Art Basel. ©Sébastien Bozon and Alexandra Pauli

The artist, who hails from a collecting family, said that the joke traces back to his childhood. “I remember when I first heard about the ‘Basel’ art fair and initially thought it was some kind of botanical show with the central theme of the green basil leaf, hence the name ‘Art Basil,'” he said.

(He also cited, as partial inspiration, artnet News’s own recent April Fool’s Day news digest in which we “reported” that the world’s premier art fair was expanding its brand by branching out into fresh herbs, including offering $55,000 basil.)

Part of "Art Basil 2018," the fountain outside of the Messeplatz. Massimo Agostinelli with "Art Basil" at Art Basel, 2018. ©Sébastien Bozon and Alexandra Pauli

Part of “Art Basil 2018,” the fountain outside of the Messeplatz. Massimo Agostinelli with “Art Basil” at Art Basel, 2018. ©Sébastien Bozon and Alexandra Pauli

The basil plant at this year’s fair was not the only spot where Agostinelli infused the fair with a touch of unexpected green.

He also turned the fountain outside the Messeplatz a very bright, Day-Glo green on opening day. Security promptly was forced to drain the fountain and returned it to its normal hue.

Agostinelli had been strolling the fair with a gaggle of VIPs including Diana Picasso (granddaughter of the artist), collectors David Mugrabi and Helly and Joseph Nahmad, and producer Nellee Hooper. He says that his chums got a kick out of the stunt.

“Loved Massimo’s green invasion during the Basel Art Fair,” Picasso wrote on WhatsApp. “He meticulously positioned basil plants in exhibition booths. Visitors were also all wide-eyed and smiling at the luminous green color of the outdoor fountain.”

Not everyone will be amused by the conflation of Basel with basil. Just yesterday art advisor Todd Levin, who has been posting Basel-related cat memes all week, wrote on Instagram, “The next time someone pronounces it Art ‘Basil’, I’m going to hit them with a bus, then drive over them, then back up over them, then set them on fire, then drive over them again.” File this one under #ArtBaselProblems!


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics