Mindaugas Navakas, Objektas nr. 10 (Object no. 10), 2019, porcelain, aluminum, steel spring, granite, 727⁄8 × 13 3⁄4 × 13 3⁄4".

Mindaugas Navakas, Objektas nr. 10 (Object no. 10), 2019, porcelain, aluminum, steel spring, granite, 727⁄8 × 13 3⁄4 × 13 3⁄4".

Mindaugas Navakas

What do you think of when you hear the word porcelain? Probably something delicate, smooth, and fragile. Mindaugas Navakas wants you to hold onto such associations—but only so that he can break them, crush them with something as heavy as a single-drum roller. The veteran Lithuanian sculptor treats porcelain like any other cheap ready-to-use industrial material. His sculptures are large, bulky, rough-textured, molded in deliberately reductive shapes with visible cracks on their surfaces. He challenges the material itself along with all of our assumptions about it.

Titled “China,” Navakas’s recent exhibition was all about inversion. At the entrance one was greeted by a tall oversize body (all works 2019)—composed of a rusty found industrial spiral wrapped around a long thin stone torso on an unrefined granite base—topped by a rounded porcelain head, slightly tilted and visibly cracked. The object looked something like a giant spoon. Next to it, hanging on the wall, was another spoonlike sculpture with an unwieldy wooden body and a porcelain top. The viewer began to realize: For Navakas, there is no hierarchy among materials; an old metal spring is as beautiful as a fine porcelain head with a touch of gold on its face. Three small etchings on another wall, sketches of sculptures (two of which also appeared in the show) repeated the same form, but whether you were looking at a fragment of Hellenistic architecture or a piece of a ceramic pedestal sink was unclear. Actually the connection was not so far-fetched, as systemic hygiene is often associated with ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

The largest room of the gallery, with shiny white tiles covering the entire back wall, was reminiscent of some sort of sanitized archaeological display. Porcelain sculptures replicated shapes of sanitary ceramics, such as pedestal sinks, while ready-made porcelain pedestals were incorporated into a miniaturized templelike structure. Two smaller sculptures on the back wall, with golden glaze radiating from their centers, again evoked something like a cross between a sink, a urinal, and a tight corset.

The last gallery was filled with more ambiguous objects. At the center, a life-size wooden swing-like structure stood delicately on pointy feet. Found pieces of traditional Lithuanian linen shrouds were tied to the structure, holding a long, roller-shaped body. One tiptoed around it, afraid to come too close to the suspended hollow form because of its evident fragility. Yet one could be sure that the structure was stable—the artist is skilled at manipulating our perception and through it our behavior in space. Two oval sculptures on the walls looked like rubber life buoys but suggested two different scenarios: One was cinched with a used seatbelt, the other with an old bit of a burial shroud. Just as Navakas recognizes no hierarchy among materials, neither does he recognize one between sacred and profane. In his art, all are equally exquisite.