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A new exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum won’t have people asking, “Where’s the beef?” as much as, “Where’s the beef from?”

On Friday, a new exhibit will open at the MAM featuring work by Montana artist Tracy Linder. The work, which replaces an installation by Bozeman artist Terry Karson, is called “Blindsided,” and deals with the changes in how cattle are raised and processed.

“In part, it’s about mass factory farms in the cattle industry. With the growing demand for animal protein in our diets, I wanted to start a dialogue about that,” Linder said.

The exhibit will feature life-size paper casts of cow heads, each identical, that will be mounted along the wall of the Aresty gallery through the middle of April.

At the same time, Linder said the work is also about smaller ranching operations that are redeveloping traditional ranching techniques. Each of the heads has pieces of fescue grasses embedded in as a nod toward smaller, grass-fed operations.

Linder grew up on a small family farm that also raised cattle. As a kid, she was also involved in 4-H, specifically raising cows.

“It took me years to understand what 4-H was really about. You do all of these things when you are raising the animal, you become attached to them like you would a dog. Then the day after showing them, they are gone. I think if everybody had a bit more familiar relationship with what they eat, it would probably change the way they think about food,” she said.

She now lives in Molt, outside of Billings, and said her past experiences, as well as where she lives now, influenced her artwork, which mainly deals with the changing landscape of agriculture and food sources.

“Blindsided” has been in development since 2007, when Linder first began to lay out details for her latest work. Once she was happy with the direction it was going in, it was still a long process to create the full exhibit. Even when she was working on the project full time, she was still only producing less than 10 heads each week.

“I had three molds for the heads. So it was like an assembly line. Three in the mold, three drying, three being trimmed, three being sanded, three having the grasses embedded,” she said.

Linder said the cast molds themselves are only a part of the exhibit, and that she is very particular as well with the way it is installed. “The way the heads are hung, they should have a slight tip to them, to accentuate the look of the eyes.”

All of the details go toward conveying the personality of the cow, she said. While the exhibit has been shown in other galleries, the installation at the MAM is the largest.

This version will have 100 of the heads, and Linder said the scale itself changes the way someone will experience the work. “I think it’s my riskiest work so far. I’ve never had something this big, where you weren’t just looking at it, you were in the middle of it,” she said.

Linder will also be at an artist reception at the MAM to talk about her work on Feb. 21. After letting people see and experience the gallery, she will discuss what inspired “Blindsided.”

“I want them to just come in and see it first. I like that naked response,” she said.

Two days after the reception, she will also be on a panel event at the MAM, alongside local food producers, to talk about food sourcing.

The exhibit will be on display from Jan. 11 until April 21.

Dillon Kato is a journalism student at the University of Montana and an intern at the Missoulian. He can be reached at 523-5251 or at dillon.kato@missoulian.com.

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