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Two topics that don't go together: The inspired Mixed Taste series

May 17, 2012 |  9:40 am

  In the Mixed Taste series, presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, there are combined presentations by two speakers, each of whom talks on their separate field of expertise
Cockroaches, Judas, the Napoleonic Wars and dubstep. Curious people in Denver can hear about any of these things from knowledgeable experts this summer. What's unusual is that they'll hear about them in pairs -- very mismatched pairs. Cockroaches and Judas. Dubstep and the Napoleonic Wars.

It's the Mixed Taste series, presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. There are two speakers, each of whom presents on their separate field of expertise. Then, in the question-and-answer session, the people in the audience draw out connections between the two. And they do.

"Wittgenstein and hula dancing appear on the surface to have nothing to do with each other," said organizer Sarah Baie, whose title at the museum is director of programming and chief of fictions. "In truth, hula dancing is a kind of language but with dance -- a way to convey meaning through an art form." The well-read audience pointed out different ways that hula illustrated Wittgenstein's ideas about language.

The series was founded in 2004, when MCA Denver's director, Adam Lerner, was faced with the prospect of hosting "Taste of ..." events, which would allow people to take a quick look at one kind of art or another. As Baie tells it, he thought that sounded like a miserable evening. Instead, he thought to put two disconnected ideas together to see what might happen. Like, say, "Nietzsche and Puppies, Puppies, Puppies!"

In addition to philosophers and animals, literature is in the mix. Some notable literary Mixed Taste disconnections: Emily Dickinson and Bananas Foster, meat sausage and T.S. Eliot, prairie dogs and Gertrude Stein, and tamales and literary memoirs. If there's a trend, it seems to be authors and food -- this summer's lineup includes beef and Edgar Allan Poe. But, just when it seems like there's a pattern, Mixed Taste mixes is up: On Aug. 2, Flannery O'Connor is paired with phantom limbs.

Some of the speakers get asked back; most, like the mixologist who will be speaking about gin martinis, have a field of expertise that's best for just one session. The series begins June 7 and ends August 30; tickets are $20 for the general public.

The first Mixed Taste session, in 2004, had about 10 people in the audience; this June, it moves to a 350-seat theater. "I can't imagine we'd get this many people to go to an hourlong talk about Russian conceptualism," Baie said. "But you pair it with 'Pirates!'..."

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: In 2009, then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (now governor of Colorado) spoke on show tunes at an installment of Mixed Tastes.The vitrines were there to illustrate the other subject of that evening's discussion, aquatic plants. Credit: Mixed Tastes

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