New York

Jared Bark

Holly Solomon Gallery

People who live in matchstick houses shouldn’t throw flames. Jared Bark does. His recent exhibition shows a continued interest in dwellings, although these new depictions are strikingly different in scale and tone from his last. What most accurately could be called collages and constructions made up the show: matchsticks mounted on blackboard slates, matchstick houses, drawings on embossed paper.

Menace is the dominant tone. Fragile matchstick constructions have been lit and extinguished, leaving a charred, sulphur residue and the wake of flames. He plays with matches, he gets burned, the matchstick homes threaten to go up in smoke. An eerie, childlike quality lurks in this work, that of the model child suddenly exhibiting a suppressed pathology: visiting the show is like babysitting for the Bad Seed. One particularly chilling Burning House has a schoolboy’s blackboard with matches mounted on it in the shape of a house; the matches have all been struck, leaving a burnt-out building blackened by smoke, virtually the same dead noncolor as the board itself.

On a nearby stand there’s a matchstick house, singed by a flash fire, verging on collapse like a dollhouse incinerated by a hateful brother. The key piece in the exhibit is an embossed silhouette—white on white paper —presumably of Bark himself, the sincerity of which is subverted by a drawing of a second silhouette mocking the expression of the embossed one. This piece seems central because it clearly depicts the divided self, the child sabotaging adult enterprise, which works as the covert theme of the exhibition.

The contrariness of these pieces—the playfulness of construction met with the willfulness of destruction—is certainly jarring. Unlike the simpler motives of William Wegman’s or Lois Lane’s childlike exuberance, Bark’s work has the tension of a spring coiled for release. With each piece’s making there’s Bark’s sinking sense of its unmaking. The works are the spoils of some terrible combat between completion and incompletion.

Bark’s self-mocking, self-critical pieces are savaging, are entertaining; their cumulative effect: disquieting. Why? The repetition of the burning house is the nightmare that won’t go away. The charred matchstick armatures are the result of the lost illusions of order.

Carrie Rickey