The Inquisition: A Quiz Forum on the Arts
, an irreverent cross between a game show and a trivia bowl that challenges art experts and audiences alike, will take place at the Walker Art Center at 7 pm Thursdays, January 7, February 11, and March 4, as part of Target Free Thursday Nights. Reviving a program that the Walker presented in 1940, these lighthearted, even irreverent, evenings will be chock-full of interesting information about the Walker’s history, artists, artworks in its collection, and a wide range of contemporary cultural topics. The Inquisition takes place in Perlman Gallery; free tickets available from 6 pm at the Bazinet Garden Lobby Desk. Space is limited. Guest experts joining Walker staff for the January 7 event are Minnesota Public Radio’s Marianne Combs and artist Andy Sturdevant.
In 1940, the Inquisition pitted audience members against a panel of local guest experts: art critics, gallery owners, art historians, and the like. Participants were invited to submit questions of fact, such as “Who cut off his ear?”; or those that could be subjectively discussed and debated, such as “What is the difference between composition and design?”
After attending two Inquisitions,” once as a member of the audience and once in the painful position of guest expert,” Star Journal critic John K. Sherman was a fan. “As one who has labored long to take art out of the morgue and dispel the awe and agony with which it is regarded,” he wrote, “I’m tickled that the Center is doing such a brilliant job in associating art with fun, with natural unaffected enjoyment thereof.”
“Much has been written about the supposedly new, participatory, user-driven culture emerging out of social networking and Web 2.0 environments,” said Sarah Schultz, the Walker’s director of education and community programs. “It was very inspiring to rediscover ways that the Walker embraced a kind of playful, open spirit about art from the very beginning. The new Inquisition builds on that history, and continues to subvert pre-conceived ideas about who and what constitutes ‘authority’ or ‘expertise’ about art.”
The Inquisition was one of the first programs offered at the newly christened Walker Art Center, which opened to a crowd of 3,500 in January 1940. The former Walker Art Galleries—the first public gallery in the Midwest, established by lumber baron Thomas Barlow Walker—had languished during the Depression, shrinking to a staff of three. In 1939, the family-run Walker board agreed to a proposal from the Minnesota Arts Council and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) that would transform the private galleries into a public art center, the last and largest of more than 70 such institutions created in just four years, in part with WPA funds. Daniel Defenbacher, the WPA official who had headed up that whirlwind effort, was appointed the Walker’s first director, serving until 1950.
The currently running collections exhibitions Event Horizon and Benches & Binoculars present an opportunity to reconsider our experiences and encounters with art. In this spirit, Schultz and her team are culling material for questions and challenges from a wide range of sources, including the Walker Archives, current artworld news, and the community at large. The new Inquisition will have guest experts and audience members playing with and against each other, with opportunities for both to act as judge. “Audience participation is central, so we count on visitors to join in even before the event, by sending us questions,” she notes. “If we get things that stump our experts, or get everyone laughing—or both—then we’ve done a good job.” To participate, visit walkerart.org/inquisition and submit your questions, memories, anecdotes, and trivia.