Art Basel Hong Kong: Debate on social media and art

Co-founder of Intelligence Squared Asia Amelie von Wedel unveils this year’s debate motion on social media and art at this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong

Ever since Greek citizens spoke out in ancient Athens’ Agora market place, debate and commerce have been intertwined. In 2009, Amelie von Wedel and Yana Peel co-founded Intelligence Squared Asia and mounted their first cultural debate on the sidelines of Art Basel (then known as Art Hong Kong). The annual event has grown into a sell out event that attracts an international calibre of expert panelists.

Its debates’ format is simple: a motion is put forward on a controversial subject. This year’s debate topic held on the evening of March 23 is titled Social Media is Killing Art. The panel consists of two specialists speaking for the motion, and two that are against, with a moderator who ensures everyone gets their fair say. The live audience is encouraged to actively participate through a lengthy question and answer period following the debate, and by voting prior to and immediately after closing remarks. The most remarkable thing about each debate is that people who tend to be undecided will make up their minds one way or another after hearing the arguments. The debates enhance and support the commercial wheeling and dealing next door at Art Basel by helping to ground the art fair while at the same time presenting a big picture arena for discussion.

“Intelligence Squared was co-founded by John Gordon and Jeremy O’Grady with a strong sense of passion about bringing high level intellectual debate on pressing subjects and with the world’s sharpest minds to the broadest audience possible, and with keen audience involvement,” summarises the London-based von Wedel. “Yana and I always loved the organisation and its outstanding events; we were thrilled to be able to co-found Intelligence Squared Asia. Now, as directors of the Intelligence Squared Group, we remain dedicated to our core debate events, but are very excited to have introduced new formats such as our Cultural Combat and Master Class events, and also to be able to use today’s technologies to reach an ever wider audience via podcasts, web links and occasional collaborations with major TV networks.”

Von Wedel grew up in Cologne, which boasted one of the country’s most vibrant art scenes in the 80s and 90s. “It had Germany’s first contemporary art fair, and an active artist and collecting/patron community,” she recalls. “I remember seeing a large installation of a pile of garbage hanging from the ceiling at Monika Sprueth’s gallery and thinking—how cool is this?” After obtaining her masters degree in art history and economics from Berlin and Edinburgh universities, she worked for high profile institutions and galleries including Berlin’s Zeughaus Museum and Munich’s Kunstmanagement Judith Betzler. She established Wedel Art to advise corporate and private clients on collecting, philanthropy, implementing foundations, and educational outreach programmes.

“We have been so excited to see how the art scene has developed in Hong Kong,” says von Wedel. “The public has been very enthusiastic. There is clearly a need and desire for top level discourse about the topics that matter in Hong Kong and in the art world generally. Our debates are intellectual entertainment with a special IQ2 magic that comes from years of experience finetuning every detail. We tap into a very civilised form of aggression, which I believe is a healthy way to approach the world’s problems.”

As for this year’s motion, von Wedel admits that she is torn on the subject. “I can see the positive effects of art’s democratisation,” she elaborates. “Artists are able to reach a mass audience without needing to go through dealers or agents. And museums can share their masterpieces with a global audience. On the other side, social media favours quick, seductive images. More difficult, intellectual pieces often get overlooked or misunderstood. Nuances, brushstrokes and ambiance need to be experienced first hand. In the end, you simply cannot recreate what you feel from standing in front of the art.”

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