NEW YORK.- Japan Society in collaboration with the Public Art Fund presents LITTLE BOY: The Arts of Japans Exploding Subculture, a major exhibition at Japan Society Gallery and an installation of artworks in New York Citys public spaces in Spring 2005. The exhibition and public events will explore the astoundingly popular phenomenon called otaku, a Japanese subculture obsessed with fantastic and apocalyptic science fiction, video games, comic books (manga) and film animation (anime), and whose visual language is rapidly becoming globalized. The exhibition features works by leading creators of these popular art forms as well as related paintings, sculpture, and installations by acclaimed contemporary Japanese Neo-Pop artists. The exhibition and public art projects create a dynamic arena in which to discover what Japanese critics, art historians and artists consider the most exciting and challenging cultural developments in Japan today.
Conceived and curated by celebrated artist Takashi Murakami, LITTLE BOY is the third and final installment of his series of exhibitions that began with Superflat at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001, and continued with Coloriage at the Fondation Cartier, Paris in 2002. These exhibitions introduced the work of a new wave of Japanese artists to an international audience and in so doing also considered the visual and aesthetic context from which contemporary Japanese art emerged. As the final installment of the Superflat trilogy, LITTLE BOY goes beyond the spectacular optics of Japans popular cultures to identify the fantasies of a darker graphic subculture. More than Murakamis previous Superflat exhibitions and publications, LITTLE BOY draws on historical source material to illuminate the cultural conditions and influences that shape the work of Japanese artists today.
What marks Murakami as both so crucial and controversial a force is his position that reflects the cultural and political trends that have given rise to Japans otaku subculture and its related Neo-pop movement in contemporary art, remarks Alexandra Munroe, Japan Societys Vice President of Arts and Culture and Director of Japan Society Gallery. LITTLE BOY: The Arts of Japans Exploding Subculture invites the artist into the museum to demonstrate his vision of Japan today. This is the reverse of the norm, where academically-trained curators shape the cultural discourse; here, Murakami presents us with his views from within the national psyche.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION - The projects title, LITTLE BOY, refers to the codename for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Murakamis interpretation of Japans popular culture and graphic arts of the past three decades is rooted in his countrys memories of the war and in the evolution of Japans understanding of its postwar situation. In Murakamis view, the specific historical events and processes that inform otaku culture include military aggression and defeat in the Pacific War (1932-1945); the devastation of the atomic bomb; Japans military and political dependence on the United States; and, the replacement of a traditional, hierarchical Japanese culture with a disposable consumer culture ostensibly produced for children and adolescents. The title also refers to the infantalization of the Japanese culture and mindset, evident in the fixation on cartoon imagery, cute products and young markets a result, Murakami argues, of Japans economic and political dependence on the west. These unresolved conflicts, LITTLE BOY suggests, are the explosive context of Japans pop culture.
To most Japanese, the term Little Boy conjures memories of catastrophic defeat. Murakami explores how cartoons and animation have been appropriated by artists as a means to resolve the trauma of atomic war, the devastation of defeat, and what he calls the unmoored, apolitical state that has emerged since. Focused often on apocalyptic imagery, with frequent references to atomic explosion and futuristic annihilation/salvation, the cartoons that dominate Japans media and entertainment industries provide a screen that both exaggerates and diminishes the real history that they function to suppress.
Murakamis selection of TV and film animation for the exhibition LITTLE BOY includes some of the most well-known and popular anime of postwar Japan. To a remarkable extent, imagery of atomic bombs, toxic wastelands, and mass destruction dominate these cartoon narratives. In the 1970s TV series Time Bokan, each episode of time-machine travel concludes with a bright orange atomic explosion, wiping out the villains who then re-appear in the following weeks episode. The manga and feature film anime Akira, one of the greatest hits in anime history, witness the obliteration of Tokyo and a spectacle of human destruction that unfolds against a dystopian background of civil chaos. Finally, Neon Genesis Evangelion, which appeared in 1997 and is the cult anime of otaku, chronicles social and psychological disintegration as unremitting apocalypse descends over a once-demolished future Tokyo, now peopled with sinister robotic creatures. In LITTLE BOY, Murakami demonstrates how the national experience of nuclear disaster has created a graphic subculture obsessed with what has been termed the post nuclear sublime.
The exhibition presents iconic images drawn from Japanese popular culture juxtaposed with major works by contemporary Japanese artists, including Murakami, whose series of paintings Time Bokan (named after the TV anime), expresses the graphic obsession that defines the exhibition. Here, Murakami appropriates a famous childrens cartoon whose horror of a national disaster and global threat becomes so abstracted, so flattened as to be rendered cute.
Related to these narratives are Japanese special-effects (tokusatsu) monster films that repeatedly feature creatures born of radioactive mutantcy. Perhaps the most famous example is Godzilla, the Tokyo-devouring monster who awakens after eons of sleep beneath the sea by a hydrogen bomb explosion. His radiation-induced malformity and his nightly attacks that reduce the city to ashes, became a symbol of Japans vulnerability and essential state of terror in the postwar decades.
Monstrous abstraction of organic life also feature in the works Neo-pop artists such as Kenji Yanobe and Noboru Tsubaki. Like Murakami, Yanobe draws his imagery from Japans postwar anime culture, as in his Foot-Soldier Godzilla that is a self-defense vehicle in the form of the monsters claw. Equally dark in his cartoonish renditions of global catastrophe is Tsubaki, whose large-scale sculptures conjure futuristic decaying amalgams of nature.
The image of little boy in Murakamis work also personifies the culture of cute (kawaii) that dominates popular culture in Japan. The most famous icon of Japans cute culture is Hello Kitty, one of the most popular characters ever merchandised. The exhibition will feature an installation of Hello Kitty products as well as a selection of hundreds of toys produced in the 1960s and 1970s, on loan from the largest private collection in Japan devoted to such merchandise.
Artists whose visual effects are drawn from kawaii culture include Chinatsu Ban, Yoshitomo Nara, Chiho Aoshima, and Aya Takano. In all these works, kawaii elements sweet, saturated color; cartoon-like forms; oversized heads of wide-eyed, baby-faced figures are subtlety distorted to reveal sinister goings-on. Naras idiosyncratic sculptures and paintings of stunted children on the verge of violating themselves or others express the bewildered emptiness at the core of LITTLE