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Beijing Debate + live Q&A | Video by Crossmark | 51:56 mins

Beijing Debate key summary:

  • These times of physical distance have propelled a re-thinking of values within art institutions.


  • The pandemic has fast-forwarded the use of new digital mediums such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality.

  • Art institutions can no longer act locally without thinking globally.


The Beijing Debate 51:56 mins, is moderated by Summit founder Anneliek Sijbrandij and featured the Summit’s museum partners:

04:07 – Beatrix Ruf, curator based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

12:50 – Philip Tinari, director of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, China

15:58 – Daniel Birnbaum, director of Acute Art in London, United Kingdom

27:10 – Panel discussion

46:32 – Live Q&A

The Debate continued the discussion on one of Jessica Morgan’s 2020 Resource Hungry questions centred around HOPE: “Can we reassess the spaces, habits, structures and systems of culture to find new ways to operate and new ways to experience?” The panellists discussed the relationship between the pandemic, climate change and new technologies: the Covid-19 virus made us realise that we are all connected as humans, and most importantly that the changes made in art institutions due to the global pandemic, can also be used to fight against the climate crisis. We all have to get used to a much more virtual world, exploring the connection between new technologies and sustainability.

These times of physical distance have propelled a re-thinking of values within art institutions, emphasizing the need for more care and intentionality in the systems of culture in which they operate.

Beatrix, who co-designed the format of the inaugural Verbier Art Summit in 2017 as director of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, reflects on how the pandemic has called into question what it means to act as an international art institution when you cannot have physical exchange internationally. Additionally, the government lockdowns and working from home have intensified art institutions’ responsibility and role as caretaker to its staff, community and artists. For example, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, where Beatrix advises on strategies and programmes, set up a programme to support local artists, as well as a canteen which provided food to its staff members, artists and people in need in Moscow. Philip added that the UCCA has strategically recentred it’s focus on the power of the artwork itself, as the art is still able to travel to the museum, even though the artists cannot. This fostered a more intentional way of working within the museum - to do less, with a bit more care and planning whilst the rhythm of “more, now, faster and bigger” in the art world has been suspended.

Public Talks with museumdirector Beatrix

Beatrix Ruf speaking at the 2017 Verbier Art Summit. 

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Daniel Birnbaum discussing Acute Art's joint exhibition Mirage: Contemporary Art in Augmented Reality with the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. 


The pandemic has fast-forwarded the use of new digital mediums such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) showcasing their artistic, institutional and ecological potential.

The use of AR, VR and MR artworks drastically reduces the need for travel, thus providing a solution to what Daniel (partnering museum director of the 2018 Summit Art in the Digital Age) calls an ‘ecologically disastrous’ model of contemporary international art fairs and biennales. However, Daniel also reminds us that the digital sphere still isn’t completely ecologically harmless and that technologies such as VR are still rather difficult to distribute due to the need of headsets and heavy equipment. On a positive note, AR artworks have been extremely successful in terms of their reach and accessibility due to the widespread use of mobile phones. Daniel and Philip agreed that the new visual possibilities provided by these mediums have sparked further questions about how traditional institutional platforms and spaces may develop in response.


Olafur Eliasson, WUNDERKAMMER, 2020.

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Daniel Birnbaum discussing the work of his studio Acute Art. 


Although art institutions have developed a stronger emphasis on 'the local', the planetary experience and global meaning of the pandemic has highlighted that we can no longer act locally without thinking globally.

Daniel reflects on the current trend of buying more local artworks and how these new localisms could lead to a new insistence on grassroots initiatives regarding the environment. This could provide a more sustainable alternative to the ‘blockbuster exhibition model’ that has become dependent on mass tourism (and events). However, Daniel also believes that international discourse and conversations are important to avoid new nationalisms, echoing Beatrix’s statement that we have “to be local, but think about the planet”. Commenting on the diverse backgrounds of the Netherlands-based The Hartwig Art Production | Collection Fund curators, Beatrix adds that one of the big challenges of new localisms will be to not get the wrong idea about the ‘local’, as the local is quite often very international already: the pandemic has made it clear that we are all connected.


The Hartwig Art Production | Collection Fund aims to help artists realise ambitious productions that will be donated to the Dutch national art collection. To learn more about the Fund click here.

To learn more about Daniel and Philip’s collaboration for the Mirage: Contemporary Art in Augmented Reality exhibition (28 November 2020 – 10 February 2021) click here

The UCCA Center for Contemporary Art's UCCA Lab in Beijing will stage the world's first NFT art exhibition entitled "Virtual Niche—Have you ever seen memes in the mirror?” from 26 March – 4 April 2021. NFT's (non-fungible tokens) are unique digital assets made with blockchain technology, that allow one person to own a digital artwork. By showcasing the works of more than 60 artists, the exhibition aims to connect the institutional art world with the crypto community. Click here to read more.

Unreal City (8 December 2020 – 5 January 2021) London’s biggest AR exhibition produced by Acute Art and Dazed Media, was eventually made available to the public from the safety of their homes in response to the new lockdown measures in London. The Unreal City at Home exhibition featured works by KAWS, Nina Chanel Abney, Olafur Eliasson and Cao Fei. To view their AR artworks download the Acute Art app here.




Beatrix Ruf

Strategic Director & 2017 Partner

Beatrix Ruf is a curator based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and co-designed the format of the inaugural Verbier Art Summit in 2017. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Hartwig Art Foundation in Amsterdam and works on strategies and programmes at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia. Beatrix served as the Director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam from November 2014 to January 2018. From September 2001 to October 2014 Beatrix was Director and Chief Curator of Kunsthalle Zürich, overseeing a substantial expansion project launched in 2003 and concluded in 2012. Former occupations include: Curator at Kunstmuseum Thurgau, Warth from 1994-1998, Director of the Kunsthaus Glarus, Glarus from 1998-2001. In 2006 she curated the third edition of the Tate Triennial in London, she was Co-Curator of the Yokohama Triennial in 2008. From 1995 to 2014 she has been the curator of the Ringier Collection and since 2010 she is a member of the think tank core group of the LUMA. In 2013 Beatrix co-founded POOL, a postgraduate curatorial program in Zürich. 

Photo by Federik Jacobovitz. 

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Daniel Birnbaum

2018 Partner

Daniel Birnbaum is the director and curator of Acute Art in London, UK. Daniel was previously the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm from 2010 to 2018. From 2000 to 2010 he was the Rector of Städelschule in Frankfurt and Director of its kunsthalle Portikus. He is contributing editor of Artforum in New York and has curated a number of large exhibitions, including Airs de Paris at Centre Pompidou in Paris (in co-operation with Christine Marcel) in 2007. Daniel was the director of the 2009 Venice Biennale. He is the author of numerous books on art and philosophy and is the co-editor (with Isabelle Graw) of the Institut für Kunstkritik series published by Sternberg Press. He is on the board of directors of Nobel Media, the organisation that manages all the events surrounding the Nobel prizes. 

Photo by Åsa Lundén


Philip Tinari

Director and CEO of the UCCA Center of Contemporary Art

Philip Tinari has served as director of UCCA, Beijing, the institution at the heart of Beijing's 798 Art District, since late 2011. During his tenure, he has mounted more than sixty exhibitions and organized a wide range of public programs and development initiatives. His program has brought to China international figures including Robert Rauschenberg, Elmgreen & Dragset, Haegue Yang, William Kentridge, Taryn Simon, and Tino Sehgal, and has tracked China's evolving art scene through retrospectives and surveys of artists including Zhao Bandi, Zeng Fanzhi, Liu Wei, Xu Zhen, Wang Keping, Wang Xingwei, Kan Xuan, and Gu Dexin, as well as exhibitions focused on emerging artists such as The New Normal: Art, China, and 2017, ON | OFF: China's Young Artists in Concept and Practice (2013), and the ongoing exhibition series New Directions. In 2009, he launched LEAP, an internationally distributed, bilingual art magazine published by the Modern Media Group. He is a contributing editor of Artforum, and was founding editor of that magazine's online Chinese edition. He holds degrees from Duke and Harvard, and is currently a D.Phil. candidate in art history at Oxford. Philip is cocurator, with Alexandra Munroe and Hou Hanru, of the exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, which opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in October 2017.

Photo by Wang Jun. 

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