Inspired by a single historical event, in this gallery we consider the notion that actions speak louder than words. In 1970, Chancellor Willy Brandt became the first German ruler to visit the country of Poland since Nazi Germany invaded in 1939. Rather than make a speech, Brandt laid a wreath on a monument to the thousands of Poles killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Then he knelt down and silently bowed his head. Photographs of this gesture circulated around the world. Over 40 years later, Seattle sculptor Akio Takamori memorialized Brandt’s mute apology as a moving expression of deference and humility rarely practiced by today’s leaders.
Brandt’s kneeling position recalls the submissive posture shown in a European religious painting he commissioned—look for the small figure gazing up in adoration in the painting Virgin and Child with Donor by Bernardo Daddi in the same gallery. Kneeling also reflects the attitude of a penitent saint humbled by his own sinfulness. But gestures can also be uplifting—a raised hand encourages elevated thoughts. And sometimes, collective love—whether joyful or grief-stricken—generates a flow of gestures and responses that unite the whole community.
Image: Willy B, 2016, Akio Takamori, Japanese (active in the United States), 1950–2017, stoneware with under and overglazes, 35 1/2 x 16 x 23 1/2 in., Seattle Art Museum, Howard Kottler Endowment for Ceramic Art, Northwest Purchase Fund, Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund, Mark Tobey Estate Fund, Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2017.12, © Akio Takamori.