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Art Meets Beast, round one: Buffalo Bill and the cave paintings

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"What we eat is an expression of who we are," said Adam Lerner, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, by way of introducing the first session in the three-day Art Meets Beast project. "Food is our most immediate introduction to culture."

And there was plenty of food for thought at last night's session at the MCA, a special Mixed Tastes matchup that featured University of Colorado professor Kirk Ambrose talking about cave paintings and Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, talking about Buffalo Bill Cody. The intersection of these two topics? The bison that are featured so prominently in 30,000 year-old cave paintings, and also in the considerably younger legend of Cody, who got his nickname as a hunter of the beasts.

"There's something about the idea of the bison that is crucial to what we are trying to do here at the museum in connecting art to life," Lerner continued. "The bison is that thing that was here, part of our heritage here in the West. It relates to our history here in the West."

As moderns, he said, "We like to eat a hamburger and be happy about that, and not think that we killed a cow. There's a disassociation about modern life."

But disassociation won't be possible at the museum today, when a bison will be butchered - and given to some of Denver's most talented chefs, who will cook their cuts and serve up a "nose to tail" feast that will be the culmination of Art Meets Beast. Before that, at 4 p.m. tomorrow, eight more experts - including Temple Grand and Pete Marczyk -- will speak at a workshop on how it is that food has created the city of Denver, continuing the "process of making food into a visible part of life," Lerner said.

So, what do cave-painting and Buffalo Bill have in common? They both inspire speakers to start their talks with cartoons. "This is the art form that appears most in cartoons," Ambrose said. "I don't think you can get any more non-modern than cave painting."

Cody, on the other hand, was a very modern man, the prime marketer of his day - although his legend hasn't completely carried on. "One day," Friesen said, "a woman walked into the museum with her young son. In the lobby, there's a large poster with Buffalo Bill. 'That's the man that started Kentucky Fried Chicken,' the boy said."

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