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Okamura Designs Exhibit Space that Speaks to Futurist Designs of Abstract Artist El Lissitzky

September 29, 2008 — Contemporary artist Hideyo Okamura spent two weeks at the University of Virginia Art Museum transforming a rectangular white room into a three-dimensional space, inspired by two futurist portfolios by abstract artist Lazar Markovich (El) Lissitzky.

The works exhibited in the installation are from Lissitzky's "Proun" portfolio, conceived as a prototype for future mechanical and architectural designs, and his "Victory Over the Sun" portfolio, created to commemorate Kasimir Malevich's 1913 futurist opera of the same name. The Kestner Society commissioned both portfolios in 1923.

Lissitzky himself created exhibition spaces and between 1923 and 1928 that took his "Proun" prints into three-dimensional abstract spaces.

"His concept of gallery space is not just space to put art up. It's not just a container," Okamura said. "The space itself becomes part of the whole exhibit and then one whole installations piece."

The U.Va. Art Museum's exhibit is the fourth installation Okamura has created to showcase Lissitzky's work. The space was different at each venue; Okamura considers the architectural elements of the room when planning the design of the wall-sized abstractions that wrap around the space, including the ceiling, and incorporate the room's architectural elements.

"When I do this the portfolio is always in my mind," Okamura said. The larger images that he paints on the room's surfaces are echoes of details from Lissitzky's works as well as new images and spaces inspired by the art.

"In a way, I emphasize what he is doing in details," he said. "You really need to look carefully at his work. One section of a piece looks three-dimensional, but then when your eye follows the rest of the piece, in some ways it becomes flat. So there is a very interesting space he creates."

Okamura's designs create a dialogue across time and space, one artist talking to the other through their art. It is also a dialogue that speaks to the viewer.

"I am hoping by having the larger image on the wall, you see that and then go back to Lissitzky's pieces and see more what he is trying to do. I hope it helps the viewer to see his work," he said.

"El Lissitzky: Futurist Portfolios" runs through Dec. 28. 

The exhibition installation was designed by Okamura and curated by Elizabeth Turner, vice provost for the arts and interim director of the U.Va. Art Museum, and Elsa Smithgall, associate curator of The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

"El Lissitzky: Futurist Portfolios" is made possible with the support of the U.Va. Art Museum Volunteer Board, Arts Enhancement Fund and Arts$.

— By Jane Ford

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