The future was then: Hideyo Okamura channels El Lissitzky

Plate number 3 from El Lissitzky's Proun.

All good feuds must come to an end. The United States and the former Soviet Union. The Hatfields and the McCoys. The Hook art writer and the University of Virginia Art Museum.

I decided to climb down from my arty high horse when I learned what the Museum was planning for its current exhibition, “El Lissitzky: Futurist Portfolios.” For two weeks in September, contemporary artist Hideyo Okamura occupied the Museum’s south gallery– a.k.a. the “Pine Room”– and transformed it into a modern work of art designed to showcase El Lissitzky’s visionary prints.

Russian-born Lissitzky’s heyday in the 1920s was brief but forever changed art. Lissitzky leapt through a window of opportunity when the Russian Revolution lifted restrictions on Jews. Trained as an architect and engineer, he turned his back on figural art to envision a new technological world in the abstract, exploring geometric constructions that played off perceptions and expectations of spatial relationships. His futuristic compositions were so radical that Lissitzky coined a new word for them: “Proun.”

Hobnobbing with like-minding artists in Europe, Lissitzky met German artist Kurt Schwitters, who introduced him to the modern art-supporting Kestner Society. The association enlisted Lissitzky to create two portfolios of lithographs for its members.

The first portfolio, Proun, comprising a cover, a title page, and six plates, hangs in the south end of the transformed Pine Room. The geometric compositions are spare and deceptively direct. Yet Lissitzky manipulates the circles, lines, and angular objects so they appear to shift between two- and three-dimensions, sometimes defying gravity.

Plate number 6 depicts an interior that elides art and architecture, an idea Lissitzky attempted in several German shows. It also serves as the basis for Okamura’s surrounding environment. Using similar wall compositions, Okamura adopts Proun’s sober palette of black, grey, and dark taupe for this end of the exhibition, while progressively introducing more color as the space moves north, where the second portfolio, Victory Over the Sun, hangs. Reflecting Lissitzky’s embrace of the rule-breaking freedom of geometric abstraction, Okamura liberates Lissitzky’s elements from their frames, letting them range around the room in carefully constructed visual moments.

The interplay between Lissitzky’s prints and Okamura’s space is dynamic. Each enlivens the other. Without Lissitzky’s portfolios, Okamura’s exquisitely detailed room would lack context. Likewise, Lissitzky’s 1920s prints gain new vitality from Okamura’s staging.

Stellar both visually and intellectually, “El Lissitzky: Futurist Portfolios” is not to be missed. I’m glad the past didn’t keep from me seeing the future.

"El Lissitzky: Futurist Portfolios" is on view at the University of Virginia Art Museum through December 28. 155 Rugby Road. 924-3592.


Congrats Justin, You deserve it! Look forward to seeing you on stage:)

Congratulations Justin...Come and see us and maybe we can find some berries!! Hope to see you soon, its been a while since we seen you last.

Congratulations, Justin. Sounds like things couldn't be better. We're all very proud of you.

WoW Justin, You've done great things, just like I thought you would back in second grade!!!

Justin saw you at Pink, you are a fantastic guitar player, and so so lucky to be doing what you're doing. Good Luck with everything.

congrats justin from down under. great guitar player

i love your guitar playing! you are like my guitar hero !!!!!!!!

haha yea you actually helped me become better on the guitar nhaha x fun x


Hi Justin, just watched your performance on Pink's DVD. You have a gift. Hope to hear your name more often. Cheers...

Dear Justin,
Not since since first seeing Vai live have I heard such a phenomenal player. What you have goes beyond all those hours of practice and cheesy as it sounds, into the realm of a musician that was born to as a gift to music. I will gladly support you by buying anything you release. You deserve guitar legend status, and I hope you get it. Thanks for the tunes dude.

Dear Justin,
I am a big fan of P!nk. I went to go see her in Boston on Oct.2 at the TD arena for the 2009 Funhouse Tour and was absolutely blown away by your guitar solo!! I want to congragulate you for this awesome opportunity to be able to tour with her and for us to hear your music. I was captivated by your playing and I hope that you make a record of your own someday too. You serve as great inspiration and I hope that our paths will cross someday in the future so that you can hear my music too.

Saw you play in Chicago for P!nk Funhouse and the first thing I said to my sister when the show began was "he is really an awesome guitar player. I mean really great." My mom made me take lessons as a kid for two years and never could get it. Maybe because I was left handed playing right. You really are a natural and a pleasure to watch and listen. Great show. Very entertaining. Keep it going and rockin.

I love you Justin!
U're the best & my favourite!!
Good luck for everything!!

I heard you play for the first time at The Garden a few weeks ago. Mesmerizing is far too soft a word to describe your playing. I wanted to see, hear, feel and touch.Transcendence. Thank you,Monica

I love U Justin!
U're the best &my favourite guitar player!
Good luck for everything!

I love U Justin!
U're the best & my favourite guitar player!
Good luck for everything!

hey man, watched the dvd of the australia tour with pink, then saw you in sainsburys in folkestone the next day! what a coincidence! i was with my sister and we had a sk8board with us, i dont know if you remember, but we were really hapy we had met you haha! we loved the dvd hope you carry on rocking! x jazz :)

oh my god... you rock!