There once was a woman called “the mother of contemporary art in Hokkaido.” At age 75, she turned her interests from figurative painting, which she had been doing for many years, into devoting herself to abstract collage, assemblage, and objet d’art, which are contemporary expressions, for the rest of her life. Her name is Yoko Monma. She was the mother of Gallery Monma. For more than a decade before she passed away, she enjoyed the rest of her life as an artist, learning, playing, creating, and exhibiting with the younger generation of artists like grandchildren to her. Her enthusiasm and love for contemporary art were not limited to creating just artworks, as she renovated her own house and opened a gallery with two purposes; to have featured artists’ shows and to lend the gallery on a time-limited basis. The rental gallery offered inexpensive fees that seemed little more than the gallery’s actual expenses, became popular among various young artists, and had an almost 100% occupancy rate throughout.
Why Yoko was called “the mother of contemporary art in Hokkaido” was described in Hokkaido Shimbun Press: around 2003, Yoko started a movement with local artists to organize a full-scale international art exhibition in Hokkaido. At the time, she repeatedly said, “There are many extraordinary young artists in Hokkaido. I want to introduce them to the world. I want to give them back for enjoying this old lady as a friend. True to her words, in 2005, she became the chairperson of the organizing committee for “FIX, MIX, MAX – Frontiers of Contemporary Art,” a small international exhibition held at the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, inviting local, national, and international artists. This international exhibition attracted nearly 4,000 visitors despite its short duration of 10 days.
What special note here is that the exhibition was small in scale, but it was a great success. Holding an international exhibition at a museum, even a small one, requires a certain amount of funding. It is common to imagine art and money conflict, but it is impossible to hold an art exhibition without money. And when an international exhibition is held at a museum, sponsors and collaborators are essential in addition to actual money. To open the exhibition: “FIX, MIX, MAX: The Forefront of Contemporary Art,” the executive committee and staff members, despite their high aspirations, faced considerable difficulties in terms of real money and fell into an undesirable situation. Then Yoko offered the executive committee a sum of 2.5 million yen. Most of the money came from Gallery Monma’s savings, the rest came from Yoko’s act of selling her valuable kimonos and other items she owned before. The artists and volunteer staff were immediately motivated by Yoko’s offer, rushing into local businesses, art lovers, and even small coffee shops asking for some donations that reached 1.5million yen.
A major local newspaper described it as “The first international art exhibition in Sapporo,” which was deeply appreciated by people involved in cultural administration, such as the Sapporo City Cultural Affairs Section at the time. Two years later, “FIX, MIX, MAX2: The Forefront of Contemporary Art” also opened and was visited by the same administrative officials and the mayor of Sapporo City at the time. This event may not be said to have been a direct impetus for the Sapporo International Art Festival, held once every three years today, but it was the major first step.
Within the 10-year history of Gallery Monma, Yoko laid the foundation for the subsequent activities of the younger generation of local artists and the realization of the Sapporo International Art Festival, which is why she was called “the mother of contemporary art in Hokkaido.”
Since Yoko passed on, Gallery Monma has been run by her daughter Keiko Oi, who inherits her mother, says the current gallery building will be dismantled in the spring of 2021 and reopened in the fall with a new look. Keiko-ism based on Yoko-ism will look to the future of art in Hokkaido.
Satoshi HATA (artist) — a long-time friend of Yoko studied and played together.