Murakami’s ‘little boy’ syndrome: victim or aggressor in contemporary Japanese and American arts?
ABSTRACT This paper examines the ambiguous nature of Murakami’s criticism toward the postwar Japanese condition—as the artist most effectively captured in his phrase ‘A Little Boy,’ which was also the title of his curated exhibition at the Japan Society of New York in 2005. As Murakami wrote in his introduction to the catalogue, demilitarized Japan after the Second World War underwent a collective sense of helplessness, and the metaphor of a little boy is intended to describe Japan’s supposedly unavoidable reliance on its big brother, America. The name ‘Little Boy,’ in fact, originates in the code name used by the American military for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The proliferation of ‘cuteness’ in Japanese contemporary art, which draws upon youth culture, especiallyotaku culture, evinces a common urge among the postwar generation in Japan to escape from their horrible memories and sense of powerlessness. Murakami’s rhetorical analysis of Japan’s self-image seems, however, contradictory, given his extremely aggressive business tactics, which can find no counterpart in the Western art world—not even in the efforts of Murakami’s predecessor, Andy Warhol. Like My Lonesome Cowboy (1998), whose hyper sexuality defies its pubescent and immature appearance, his art, theory, and art marketing indicate the paradoxical nature of his theory of impotence. By focusing on his manifesto and writings published on the occasion of his 2005 exhibition and his style of managing Kaikai Kiki Ltd., this paper delves into the dual nature of Murakami’s interpretation of postwar Japanese art and culture, particularly in relation to those of America.
KEYWORDS: Takashi Murakami, Japanese contemporary arts, otaku, art and subculture, Atomic Bomb (Little Boy), nationalism, globalization of art market, Asian masculinity
Dong-Yeon Koh (고동연) is currently a lecturer at Korea National University of Arts in Seoul. Professor Koh is specialized in the study about male sexualities within the New York avant-garde during the 1950s for her Ph. D in art history at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Her work of art history and Asian Studies now focuses on issues of nationalism, popular culture, and the development of contemporary arts in Asia, in lieu with her interest in masculinities. She is currently working on the reception of Japanese animations in Korean arts and culture during the 1970s and 1980s.