Lone wanderers in Vilnius’ Old Town are often observed by the artworks of the sculptor Mindaugas Navakas. His Four Large Reliant Sculptures (1993–2003) peek at coffee drinkers by the MO museum. Those rushing to their bus or train station along Kaunas Street are looked down on by The Hook (1994). At the end of the summer Leg (2016) took its place, if only temporarily, in front of the Radvila Palace to welcome visitors and passers-by. The sculpture is the prelude to the artist’s exhibition ‘Inside and Outdoors’ there. The simple title hides an ambivalent link between two poles, so prevalent in Navakas’ creative work. In this case, he seeks to open up a dialogue between inside and outside, between culture and nature, and between history and what is deemed contemporary.
The first thing visitors notice in Navakas’ new pieces, most of which were created in 2020, is the dominant milky colour. White often signifies cleanliness or purity; however, this time it is chosen as a commentary on the uncertainty of our current reality, since the preventive measures for the pandemic are making our environment similar to an operating room. In this context, the exhibition’s natural lighting dims the contrast between the colours of the objects and the exhibition space itself, giving the impression of a unified, faded whole. A similar thing happened with the past few years: time went by in the blink of an eye, making the period from the end of 2019 to the middle of 2021 disappear mysteriously. At that time, the Covid crisis was making us all anxious about the near future. Unfortunately, it is still going on. Perhaps we will hear another lockdown announced, the restrictions will be reapplied, and we will have to close many doors once again, and be doomed to observe the world through a window. This state, aggravated by the limitations to our personal freedoms, brings humanity close to a communal existential dread; although in this situation we would do best with some solidarity. And so, it seems that Navakas has chosen porcelain for his works, specifically so that he can reflect on the fragility of our current everyday lives.
The merging between the objects and the surrounding space is closely related to a phantom reality, that is, the past. According to historical documents, the Radvila Palace used to be one the most luxurious palaces in Vilnius. However, ravaged by wars, theft, demolition and other forms of destruction, this architectural masterpiece has not reached our times in its original state. Now restored by the Lithuanian National Museum of Art, the Radvila Palace does not give away its former greatness or the spirit of past times. Memories seem to travel across time as if they were ghosts, for instance, through the bas-relief medal created by Sebastian Dadler (1586–1657) . Even though many historical eras have left their architectural mark, today the building has automatic glass doors and modern lighting systems, and its brown parquet floors have been neutralised with grey paint. The few exhibition halls that are open to the public conceal the now-imaginary interior decor with mute, sleek white walls; at the moment, the historical art collection that was gathered by Radvila dukes is replaced with temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
At first glance, it may look as if Navakas is seeking to recall the building’s past and restore its former splendour: the palace might have lost its function, but not its title. The forms and the arrangement of Navakas’ objects, and their titles, refer to decorative elements that are characteristic of luxurious interiors, such as the fragile vases, decorative crockery, and other features of the Oriental tradition popular among the European aristocracy.
On each side of the doors is the diptych Two Parts (2018), denoting pillars that used to convey architectural elegance and power, and articulated their owners’ social status. The whiteness and parts in gold and blue convey the ancient spirit of Versailles, captured in materials characteristic of high society, that is, porcelain and marble. And yet it should be mentioned that these supposedly luxurious objects are made of hard-paste porcelain, which is used to make bathroom sinks and toilets. Navakas preserves a well-intentioned irony. With this dialogue between the works and their surroundings, the artist establishes his creative continuity: we might as well be talking about The Hook, hung on the former Railway Workers’ House of Culture, to ridicule the revived and pompous ‘Classicism’ of Socialist Realism, or the previously showcased Chinese ceramic ready-mades that refer to kitsch souvenirs brought back from different countries, but all made in China.
The reference to luxurious interiors and the critique of their vanity can be a starting point for a polemic about contemporary construction work. Especially since, compared to the usual pace of modern everyday life, throughout the pandemic, Covid has kept us at home a lot. One of the main features common to Navakas’ work is the spherical oval, characteristic of the pieces Queue (2020), Left–Right (2020), and the four-object series Vase (2020). This shape was made possible by the technical characteristics of the material. The interconnection of these forms is strengthened by an ordinary hexagonal star pattern. Since the mid-1960s, the multiplication of objects or motifs has habitually been used by artists as a creative method critiquing the prevailing mass-production. It invites us to see the intensity of consumerism and the corresponding uniformity of society. However, even though the critique is expressed by different artists, over the years it is repeated, and so it ceases to say anything that is not already obvious or new. Especially since contemporary commercialism is related to problems that are globally much more significant and topical than those of a lack of identity, which is being critiqued in Navakas’ exhibition.
Moreover, the artist is carrying on a conversation with the history of art. Although in the exhibitions’ introductory report it was mentioned that the series Visitor (2018) depicted the upside-down visitors that Navakas had actually dreamt of, it is difficult not to notice its reference to urinals, which in the art world are inseparable from Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). Navakas’ objects are shown in a line next to each other, while the height of the porcelain parts is at the level of a person’s crotch. And so, the reading of them becomes literal, whether we use the language of art or the language of everyday life. The title echoes the same, since the toilet is a place where we also come as visitors only. Finally, the chosen hard-paste porcelain material, which, as was mentioned before, is often used for bathroom appliances, strengthens this link even more. Nonetheless, contrary to Duchamp’s industrial ready-made, Navakas’ objects are created by the artist himself; therefore, their forms are original, and are linked to every day only by reference. And yet, however different the urinals of the two artists may be, to paraphrase the Danish director Carl T. Dreyer, it is the responsibility of the artist to raise an industrial object or material to the level of art .
When considering Navakas’ witty dialogue with Duchamp’s work, it suddenly strikes us that the artist is probably trying to highlight the cyclical manner in which cultural history repeats itself. One of his objects, called A Big Banana (2019), made an allusion to the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s banana, duck-taped on to a wall at Art Bazel in Miami in 2019 (called Comedian, the artwork was priced at 120,000 dollars). Both the latter and Duchamp’s century-old contemporary art happenings were controversial in the art world and in the broader community. Therefore, it seems that Navakas’ exhibition questions the very approach to the changes happening in contemporary art, in whichever era it might be happening.
In his exhibition ‘Inside and Outdoors’, Mindaugas Navakas acts both as an artist and as a curator, as he continues his research into the relations between a sculptural object and the surrounding space and time, with a good amount of harsh critique and intellectual irony.
 Aldo Giannotti’s ‘Performing the Museum’ is on at the Radvila Palace until 9 January 2022.
 Original quote by Carl T. Dreyer: ‘We [directors] have it in our hands to lift the film from industry to art …’