In a Pig's Eye

The title of the piece refers to the fact that Bernier has taken color photocopies of laundry-detergent boxes and wrapped them around the plywood letters. The result is a riot of strongly tinted hues that really stand out against the bright white of the gallery's walls. Though the detergent boxes feature a wide range of colors, the predominant tones are the primary colors of red, yellow and blue.

Primary colors are also at the heart of "Cross Words," a wall-mounted installation that dominates the adjacent central gallery. Three plywood crosses have been covered with words formed from plywood letters. Each cross has been painted in a monochrome--one red, one yellow, one blue. It's a witty observation by Bernier: the primary colors as the holy trinity of art.

The central space also includes two of the several bona fide sculptures Bernier has included in the show. It's not the first time Bernier has shown sculpture, but these are the first he has made almost completely out of the plywood letters, earlier efforts having incorporated found objects or ready-mades. The painted wood sculpture "Word Structure" consists of a square plywood base on which two stacks of plywood letters have been mounted. The base and the sculpture have been painted uniformly in a shiny, blazing red. In "Where the Hell Did I Put My Glasses Oh Here They Are," the title reveals the words spelled out by the horizontally stacked letters that form the piece. "Where the Hell," which incorporates a pair of glasses along with the letters, is painted in a dead white acrylic paint.

Bernier takes a different approach in another sculpture crowded into the small back space. "Wood Knot," made of wood and clear acrylic, is a minimalist sculpture in which the base is a key component. On the substantial base, made of unfinished plywood, Bernier has neatly stacked hundreds of plywood letters. The letters have also been left unfinished and have been encased in a rectangular cover of clear plastic.

The gallery's two side spaces feature more typical Bernier wall pieces, including the visually rich "Tattoo," which sports those ubiquitous plywood letters covered with--you guessed it--color photocopies of tattoos. Across the room from "Tattoo" is "If You Say It Often Enough," a plywood-and-paint bas-relief that's covered with the word "Art" repeated over and over. It's not hard to understand the implication here.

Bernier's sardonic view of the art world in "If You Say It Often Enough" brings us to the exhibit's namesake, "Casting Pearls," which is displayed nearby. A plywood construction with cut-out letters covered in black-and-white photocopies, "Casting Pearls" is divided into two parts in the manner of a diptych. On the left side are photos of pearl necklaces, on the right, ominous-looking young men wearing novelty pig snouts.

But there's more. Gallery director Mary Mackey has not only given Bernier the entire set of front spaces, which usually sport the work of two or three artists, but she has also devoted the former M-art space, which is separated from the rest of the gallery and must be reached by walking through Mackey's home and office. The old M-art space is outfitted with Bernier's paintings of words from last year, pieces that anticipated the three-dimensional work on display up front.

Among this source material is one of the most beautiful pieces in the show, the striking "Duck Soup," a mixed-media diptych. One panel is a luxurious deep black, the other a dazzling white. Each panel is completely covered with vinyl letters forming words, but they're barely visible under the paint. The painting is stunning in its simplicity.

Any qualms about intended slights notwithstanding, Casting Pearls is one of the best local solo shows in memory. It lays out Bernier's artistic development over two years--a period that was seemingly filled with hectic activity and wild stylistic changes and advancements.

The Bernier show continues a tradition of excellence at the Mackey Gallery, but promotional materials for the exhibit included an ominous notice that the next show at Mackey, a group exhibit being organized by Phil Bender, will be the gallery's last ever. Since that time, however, director Mackey has changed her mind and come up with a plan to keep the place open while reducing her expenses. She plans to turn over the main spaces to individuals interested in subletting the gallery for exhibitions.

"An artist has already put down a deposit for August," Mackey says. This means the new Mackey Gallery will be a kind of free-floating co-op in which Mackey will have no control over the content of exhibits. And that would be a shame, because she's proven herself capable of staging superb art shows.

But take heart--maybe it won't happen. Many will recall that last year at this same time, the gallery was set to close down completely before a fundraiser saved the day, allowing Mackey not only to remain open but to expand. Here's hoping Mackey is able to pull the fat out of the fire again. The loss of the gallery as an exhibition venue, even if it remains open as a sublet, would be a real blow to the Denver art scene.

Casting Pearls, through November 29 at the Mackey Gallery, 2900 West 25th Street, 455-1157.

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