Little Boy: The Arts of JapanÂ’s Exploding Subculture, on view at the Japan Society in New York (thru 24 July 2005), has generated quite the splash, with the big question being: “What is this all about?”

Given we’re dealing with what is called “pop art”, it’s inevitable to encounter the following. First, the reaction of many people who think that this kind of art is basically a joke, and second, some kind of grandiose manifesto written by one of the leading proponents, explaining the vision behind it all. Notice how these two aspects almost seem to go hand-in-hand. Add to that the fact that New York has seen pretty much everything, and you got all the ingredients for some excitement in the art world.

I’m not sure what to make of all of this, but I think I can say the following. I don’t think that art necessarily has to be something that requires an enormous effort. If you want to define art that way, you’re restricting it to a craft. Not a good idea. But I’m also quite wary of grandiose manifestos, especially if they contain some sort of idea that foreigners won’t get this kind of art anyway.

Having said all that (not much, actually!), there’s an excellent review in the New York Review of Books, written by Ian Buruma, whose book Inventing Japan, 1853-1964 I can’t recommend too much.

If you want to have an online look at some of the artists participating in the show, check out Takashi Murakami (interview, bio, more samples), author of the aforementioned manifesto and driving force behind the show, Chiho Aoshima, and Yoshitomo Nara.