Nathan Lynch: “Another High” at Rena Branbten Projects

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Model of the Valley
2014
Ceramic, glaze
16″ x 12″ x 7″
Photo: John Janaca, courtesy Rena Bransten Projects

Despite the prominent role that appropriation has played in the art world for nearly a century, we sometimes have an uneasy relationship with its cousin, homage-perhaps forgetting that beyond mere imitation, the latter also implies a show of affectionate respect through allusion to another artist’s work. Much of Nathan Lynch’s new sculpture openly riffs on the type of abstract forms identified with his teacher Ken Price. Closer examination reveals that Lynch has also drawn on his own experiences and ideas, imbuing his blobby inventions with a gently mordant humor, and a wry narrative quality that addresses the contradictions between aspiration and reality.

In a teasing kind of way, titles here suggest a potential entry into the work-though, as with poetry, they often fail to make good on that offer in any explicit way. Some Guests Are Better Than Other (all works 2014) looks inexplicably like a sci-fi version of the Venus of Willendorf, its sensuous rolls and pouchy folds covered with a darkly gleaming, cindery skin. The meaning of Political Riddle seems a bit more accessible; over-inflated, oozy white blobs straddle a handful of iron-brown wooden slats. Are these “real estate bubbles?” And, in Model of the Valley, is the strange purplish clump of misshapen balls against a rectangular wooden form that suggests an office tower an anti-monument to tech’s monstrous capitalism? Maybe. Or, maybe not. Oversharing offers a sly disquisition on several topics, including the illusory nature of theater sets-reflecting the years Lynch spent as prop master for the community theater in his hometown of Pasco, Washington. Seen from the front, it’s a pile of squishy-looking, glossy orange blobs, but on its reverse, their puffy forms have been hollowed out to a shell and tinted a vivid matte blue. The title also alludes to the compulsive and effulgent over sharing of Facebook: the endless shiny pictures of vacations and parties telling Friends more than anyone really wants to know, and what really lies behind that constant stream of chatter.

When seen in photographs, Lynch’s pieces are elusive in terms of scale. Though most are quite small-a few inches in any dimension-larger versions are easy to imagine. As with Price’s work, however, or the diminutive yet fantastically powerful objects made by Ron Nagle-with whom Lynch also studied-these are very definitely not maquettes. With magnetic grace, they question our ideas about influence and even the “unmonumentalism” that has dominated the language of avant-garde sculpture in recent years.