A photo of Leo Amino at the opening for his 1971 exhibition Leo Amino: "Refractional" Plastic Sculpture 1945-1970, at Sculpture Center, New York.

Leo Amino

The Visible and the Invisible

As of Monday, July 6, the 20th Street gallery will be open by appointment, 10 AM–6 PM EST, Monday through Friday.

In accordance with city guidelines, a limited number of visitors will be allowed within the exhibition spaces.


To schedule your visit, please click here.


To learn more about the enhanced safety measures currently in place, please click here.

 

David Zwirner is pleased to present The Visible and the Invisible, an exhibition of work by the Japanese American sculptor Leo Amino (1911–1989) curated by Genji Amino, director of the Leo Amino Estate. On view at the 537 West 20th Street location in New York, the exhibition will feature a range of the artist’s work from the 1940s to the 1980s, including previously unseen sculptures and works on paper from the artist’s estate. 

Born in Taiwan under the auspices of Japanese colonial rule and educated in Tokyo, Amino immigrated to the United States as a young man in 1929. During the second Sino-Japanese and World Wars, Amino became disillusioned with both Japanese and American nationalist traditions, seeing the provincialism and conformity they encouraged as anathema to the spirit of modernity. Amino shared a resolutely anti-conformist and anti-traditionalist philosophy with the exiles and refugees of the Bauhaus. Like fellow experimentalists of his generation Josef Albers and Ad Reinhardt, Amino was initially recognized by the cooperative Artists’s Gallery, where he received his first solo exhibition in 1940.

After several one-man shows in New York, Amino was invited by Albers to join the faculty of Black Mountain College in the summer of 1946, two years after the college’s integration, where he taught alongside the Albserses, Jacob Lawrence, and Walter Gropius, and informed the education of students Ruth Asawa, Kenneth Noland, and Harry Seidler, among others. The college’s experimental approach to media, embodied in Anni Albers’s notion of “work with material,” spoke to Amino’s vision for a modern sculpture in which aesthetic and technical experiments were inseparable. He is one of three faculty of color to teach at Black Mountain during the history of the Summer Arts Sessions. 

 

Read more

 

Image: Leo Amino at the opening for his 1971 exhibition Leo Amino: “Refractional” Plastic Sculpture 1945-1970, Sculpture Center, New York (detail)

Dates
July 631, 2020
Artist
Leo Amino
A group photo of students and staff at Black Mountain college, dated 1946.

Leo Amino with Jacob Lawrence (far left), Josef and Anni Albers (far right) and faculty, Black Mountain College, 1946

Leo Amino with Jacob Lawrence (far left), Josef and Anni Albers (far right) and faculty, Black Mountain College, 1946

“It is interesting to speculate upon the effects of consensual attitude...on the kind of artwork produced by the individual who was brought up in a structuralized society such as Japan. 

After all, consensual attitude is a kind of blind acceptance and is an enemy of individual creativity, one of the few avenues modern man has today.”
—Leo Amino
 

A, untitled wood and steel wire sculpture by Leo Amino, dated 1954.

Leo Amino

Untitled, 1954
Wood and steel wire
40 x 5 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches (101.6 x 14.6 x 14 cm)
A polyester resin sculpture by Leo Amino, titled, Refractional #75, dated 1972.

Leo Amino

Refractional #75, 1972
Polyester resin
11 7/8 x 14 7/8 x 3 inches (30.2 x 37.8 x 7.6 cm)

“Dealing with transparency, one becomes very conscious of the effects of different kinds of light.”
—Leo Amino

Amino is the first artist in the United States to use plastics as a principal medium for experiment. He is responsible for the innovation of cast plastics in the history of modern sculpture. Inspired in part by the Plexiglas experiments of the Russian Constructivists as well as Bauhaus sensibilities, his embrace of light and color as primary elements of sculptural construction anticipated the work of avant-garde American artists in the 1960s, some of whom had been his students.

One of the most featured artists in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annuals (the precursor to the Whitney Biennial) following the second World War, Amino is one of very few Asian American artists to have gained this level of national and international exposure in the first half of the 20th Century.

A photo of Leo Amino in his Perry Street apartment studio, dated 1946.

Leo Amino in his Perry Street apartment studio, 1946

Leo Amino in his Perry Street apartment studio, 1946

Anti-fascist declaration by Japanese American artists in New York City, dated 1941.

Anti-fascist declaration by Japanese American artists in New York City, 1941

Anti-fascist declaration by Japanese American artists in New York City, 1941

Born in Taiwan and educated in Tokyo, Amino immigrated to the West Coast as a young man in 1929, where he worked in the homes and fruit farms of California until anti-Japanese sentiment moved him to cross the country to New York. 

During the second Sino-Japanese and World Wars, he felt himself an outsider to both Japanese and American nationalisms. In 1941, he signed an anti-fascist declaration by Japanese American artists in New York City alongside painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi and others. He never returned to Japan.

A catalogue titled The New Decade; 35 American Painters and Sculptors, published by The Whitney Museum of American Art, dated 1955.

The New Decade; 35 American Painters and Sculptors, published by The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1955

The New Decade; 35 American Painters and Sculptors, published by The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1955

“Since you more than anyone else were the first to use plastics in an original way, I am coming to you first, just as I approached Calder to speak on mobiles, because I feel that you could speak with more authority than any other sculptor... I would feel it even more impertinent if I asked someone of less stature than yourself to speak on a phase of sculpture of which you are the master.” 
—Walker Art Center Director Harvey H. Arnason and sculptor John Rood, artist's talk invitation to Amino, c. 1950s

 

A polyester resin and wood sculpture by Leo Amino, titled Winter Scene, dated 1951.

Leo Amino

Winter Scene, 1951
Polyester resin and wood
24 x 8 3/8 x 5 1/8 inches (61 x 21.3 x 13 cm)

“Sculpture in plastics is as modern as the atomic age....It is therefore, truly a new medium. It has no precedents. It opens new vistas for artistic expression....Leo Amino pioneered in delving into the possibilities of this new medium. The fruits of his investigation now on view testify to his ingenuity as an experimenter as well as to his creative skill as a seasoned artist.” 
—Sahl Swarz, Sculpture in Plastics, catalog for Amino's solo exhibition, Sculpture Center, 1946 

Read more about Amino’s experiments in the new medium in “Plastics, a 20th-Century Phenomenon” (1947).

“Of the younger American sculptors possibly none is of more arresting interest than Leo Amino. ... His record up to the present has been one of tireless experiment, made possible only by ownership of an acutely inventive visual imagination and a rare technical facility that comprises effortless mastery over materials as disparate as mahogany and vinyl acetate.” —David Loshak, Critique, 1946. 

An untitled polyester resin sculpture by Leo Amino, dated 1966.

Leo Amino

Untitled, 1966
Polyester resin
14 x 4 1/2 x 5 inches (35.6 x 11.4 x 12.7 cm)

“He was different. He was very, very different. He was very sensuous, his sculptures. And [Josef] Albers did that on purpose. The things that he didn’t have, I mean, that kind of feeling, he invited people with that feeling.”
—Ruth Asawa recalls meeting Amino at Black Mountain College, 2002

An acceptance letter from Leo Amino to Josef Albers, accepting a faculty invitation to join Black Mountain College n April 1946.

Leo Amino accepts Josef Albers’s faculty invitation in April 1946. He proposes “experimental work in new materials for sculpture.”

Leo Amino accepts Josef Albers’s faculty invitation in April 1946. He proposes “experimental work in new materials for sculpture.”

A photo of Leo Amino at Black Mountain College in 1946.

Leo Amino’s course in sculpture at Black Mountain College, Summer 1946. Photo by Bacia Stepner. Courtesy Western Regional Archives

Leo Amino’s course in sculpture at Black Mountain College, Summer 1946. Photo by Bacia Stepner. Courtesy Western Regional Archives

A catalogue titled American Sculpture 1951, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1951.

American Sculpture 1951, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1951

American Sculpture 1951, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1951

“What I do is direct carving. The correct way to put it would be someone who has invented a form while carving without a conceptualized design... At Cooper Union I had a professor,  Leo Amino. I went to him and I told him
I wanted to carve wood.”
—Jack Whitten, Notes from the Woodshed

Leo Amino's work featured in Esquire magazine, 1954.

Amino's work featured in Esquire Magazine, 1954

Amino's work featured in Esquire Magazine, 1954

An untitled wood sculpture by Leo Amino, dated 1956.

Leo Amino

Untitled, 1956
Wood
13 3/8 x 35 7/8 x 5 1/8 inches (34 x 91.1 x 13 cm)
A wood and polyester resin sculpture by Leo Amino, titled Composition #25, dated 1952.

Leo Amino

Composition #25, 1952
Wood and polyester resin
12 x 17 1/2 x 1 1/8 inches (30.5 x 44.3 x 3 cm)
An ink drawing on paper by Leo Amino, titled, No. 35, dated 1949.

Leo Amino

No. 35, 1949
Ink on paper
6 x 9 inches (15.2 x 22.9 cm)
Framed: 9 1/4 x 12 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches (23.5 x 31.1 x 3.2 cm)

“I was interested in the use of color for sculpture... Due to transparency, the concepts relating to ordinary sculptural media had to be modified.”
—Leo Amino

Amino’s experiments went beyond the use of a new material. While his adoption of plastic had been prompted by the difficulty of incorporating color into traditional sculptural media such as wood or bronze (a question minimalist artists were to take up again in the 1960s), Amino found that the new medium presented a unique opportunity for inquiry into the sensible.

A polyester resin sculpture by Leo Amino, titled, Refractional #106 (Rectangular Female), dated 1975.

Leo Amino

Refractional #106 (Rectangular Female), 1975
Polyester resin
14 7/8 x 10 x 2 7/8 inches (37.8 x 25.4 x 7.3 cm)
A polyester resin sculpture by Leo Amino, titled, Refractional #187, dated 1983.

Leo Amino

Refractional #187, 1983
Polyester resin
7 3/4 x 4 7/8 x 4 inches (19.7 x 12.4 x 10.2 cm)

Amino used transparency as a tool to investigate the dynamics of perception, articulating space, light, and color through geometric and biomorphic sculptural form. 

He dedicated the second half of his career to a series of “refractional” compositions, deploying transparency in order to pose the question of the interdependency of subject and object through an optics of encounter, interpenetration, and absorption.

“The over-all form looks solid, holding the viewer away from it, while the inside is elusive and tempts the viewer in. Seen from one direction, there is an agglomeration of color, while, seen from another, the color almost disappears; the viewer enters it unconsciously.” 
—Vito Acconci, ARTnews, 1970

A polyester resin sculpture by Leo Amino, titled, Refractional #85, dated 1972.

Leo Amino

Refractional #85, 1972
Polyester resin
13 x 13 x 3 inches (33 x 33 x 7.6 cm)

“There were three wonderful sculptors of Japanese descent [Noguchi, Amino, Asawa] in the US during the 1950s and ’60s, who were exploring forms that were independent of minimalism and other sanctioned stylistic movements.”
—John Yau, “Discovering an Unknown Sculptor, 30 Years After His Death”, Hyperallergic, 2019

Leo Amino and his work featured in Amino featured in Life magazine, 1954.

Amino featured in Life magazine, 1954

Amino featured in Life magazine, 1954

A photo of a sculpture center catalogue for Leo Amino, dated 1952.

Recent Work by Leo Amino, published Sculpture Center, New York, 1952

Recent Work by Leo Amino, published Sculpture Center, New York, 1952

A photo of Leo Amino at Black mountain College, dated 1946.

Leo Amino, Black Mountain College, 1946

Leo Amino, Black Mountain College, 1946

    Information

      Inquire

      To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

      By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.

      Inquire

      To learn more about available works, please provide your contact information

      By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.

      • Leo Amino The Visible and the Invisible
        Explore