Peep Holy 

Laura Gest Winder explores the kitschy divine at JFK.

Some may say that, in a world of Team America and the Swift Boat veterans, nothing is sacred. But Laura Gest Winder disagrees. The artist's MFA show, The Sacred Side of Cheap and Tacky, opening November 1 at the Arts and Consciousness Gallery at John F. Kennedy University (2956 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley), features an installation comprising eight thousand Marshmallow Peeps. Yeah, the brightly hued, preservative-laden holiday confections (check out MarshmallowPeeps.com -- they're not just for Easter anymore). "I use a lot of kitsch," Winder says, "but always there's another level, something more serious. The idea of it being sacred is that, if you can find something sacred in this, you can find something sacred in anything. There's another way of seeing. If you can see something sacred in a Peep, you certainly can see something sacred in something that looks horrible to you in your life."

Winder has created works out of Pop Tarts and toy soldiers, and paid questionable homage to Martha Stewart and Britney Spears. Another installation in her show will be a chocolate shrine, with Persian carpets leading up to 35 or so ornamental candy boxes. "There's actually no chocolate in it," she says, "because the point is, what we bring to chocolate is all about your emotional connection to it. Everyone has a connection to it, whether you're anorexic or obsessive-compulsive, there are memories around it.

"I see the theme in this show as being about consumerism and consumption, and buying objects and collecting them. I always called myself a shopper-gatherer, so I shop for just the right objects and gather them for my pieces. So it's the relationship between them -- it's not the Peeps, it's the Peeps and what they become that create a whole new idea."

The Sacred Side of Cheap and Tacky runs through November 16, and there will be a reception on Saturday, November 6 from 5-8 p.m., wherein, instead of the usual crudités and Two-Buck Chuck, Winder will provide cappuccino, hand-painted chocolate, and a punch bowl full of the sweet brown stuff. Call 510-649-0499 for gallery hours and other information.

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