Akio Takamori’s final artistic gesture fills James Harris Gallery with men wearing their regret in plain sight. The eight ceramic sculptures and seven drawings the artist created in the months leading up to his death from pancreatic cancer this past January leave viewers to examine the idea of remorse. Though most of the figures reference media portrayals of apologizing Japanese political leaders and business executives, the only man identified by name is German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Shrouded in a dark, lustrous kimono, Willy B (2016) kneels and lowers his head, evoking Brandt’s gesture at a monument in 1970 that had been dedicated to residents of a Polish ghetto who were killed by Nazi troops. Brandt’s public apology was supposedly spontaneous, yet knowing that Takamori created much of this work around the time of the 2016 US Presidential election, the sculpture evokes questions about how much of an apology is genuine and how much is performed.
This question persists throughout “Apology/Remorse.” Some figures bow. Others pause beside a microphone as if they are about to speak. Most faces are creased and contorted with wrinkles, making their pain explicit. Despite all of the details the artist molds into their expressions, these men’s eyes stare with such emptiness, the viewer is left to guess which visages mask feelings of earnest despair and which merely seek sympathy from onlookers. Sculptures of Venus-like bodies topped with the male leaders’ heads add a surreal element to the show. Though the Venus has appeared in the artist’s previous work, the new sculptures incorporate notably aggressive tensions within these divided forms. The glazed stoneware White Man (2016) has deep eye sockets and a pouting mouth that shrivel in scale against the perky breasts and taut abdominals of the robust torso that the lives below the neck. The gallery statement notes that Takamori described these figures as a “misogynist’s worst nightmare,” perhaps pointing towards a response to the election’s hateful rhetoric and disingenuous gestures. Yet, the humanness that always inhabited Takamori’s art is still evident in this work’s quiet details and intended imperfections—the stark red lines left around Willy B’s ears, the waves of glaze suspended indefinitely across the Venus’s skin and the ink streaming from the drawn faces. The artist leaves the terms of the apologies and the remorse open but tinted with a subtle optimism imperative for getting through the darkest of times.