Leo Amino: Work with Material

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
September 30, 2022 – January 7, 2023

Leo Amino at the opening for his 1971 exhibition Leo Amino: “Refractional” Plastic Sculpture 1945-1970, Sculpture Center, New York.
Courtesy The Estate of Leo Amino and David Zwirner Gallery.

Japanese American sculptor Leo Amino (1911-1989) is the first artist in the United States to utilize plastics as a principal material, the innovator of cast plastics in American sculpture, and after Isamu Noguchi the most represented artist of color in the history of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s annual exhibitions for sculpture. He is one among a select few Asian American artists to have gained this level of national exposure in the first half of the 20th century. Invited by Josef Albers to join the faculty of Black Mountain College in 1946, a year after the artist began his experiments with polyester and acrylic following their military declassification at the close of WWII, Amino is the only sculptor in the following two decades to use this new industrial medium to produce a full body of work carrying forward the innovations of Constructivism and the Bauhaus with respect to both material and phenomenal transparency. Joining artists Noguchi, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and others in denouncing fascism in Japan and attempting to carve out a space for their work on the East Coast during the era of Japanese American incarceration in the United States, Amino represents what historian Mae Ngai might call an “impossible subject” of the history of American sculpture.

During a period in which the dominant strain of the American avant-garde sought out the immediacy of authentic gesture and automatic revelation, Amino chose to pursue an investigation into radical mediation, seeking to capture the intimacy between the act of seeing and the thing seen. Often embracing a minor or miniature scale, high degree of finish, refinement of form, and sensuous address disavowed by the heroic existentialism prevalent among Abstract Expressionists, Amino’s embrace of light and color as primary elements of sculptural construction anticipated the concerns of the next generation’s Minimalist and Light and Space movements, whose artists would take up his medium of choice two decades later. Across a breadth of media and compositional approaches often remarked during the artist’s lifetime for its inventiveness and versatility, Amino’s oeuvre brings into focus the dynamics of perception, articulating space, light, and color through an optics of encounter, interpenetration, and absorption.

Curated by Genji Amino, Director of The Estate of Leo Amino

Leo Amino: Work with Material was made possible with generous support from the Davis/Dauray Family Fund, David Feldman and Jennifer Herman Feldman, Henry Moore Foundation, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. Thanks to the following lenders: Estate of Leo Amino, Janis Conner, Nancy DeVore, David Feldman and Jennifer Herman Feldman, and David Zwirner. Many special thanks to the BMCM+AC board of directors, Nancy Cable, David Chickey and the team at Radius Books, Evelyn Horton, UNCA STEAM Studio, and Leslie Rosenberg.

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Black Mountain College
ReVIEWING 13 International Conference on BMC
October 7 – 9, 2022
ReVIEWING Black Mountain College conference is a forum for scholars and artists to contribute original work on topics related to Black Mountain College and its place in cultural history. The 13th Annual ReVIEWING Black Mountain College conference will have the thematic focus “Leo Amino / The Visible and the Invisible: Submerged Histories of Abstraction,” with keynote speaker Marci Kwon, Ph.D. Kwon’s research and teaching interests include the intersection of fine art and vernacular practice, theories of modernism, cultural exchange between Asia and the Americas, critical race theory, and “folk” and “self-taught” art.