The HOKUBU Memorial Picture Museum is a private art museum that opened in 1996 to exhibit the paintings collected by Konishi Masahide, chairman of the Hokubu Group, which consists of about 20 companies and corporations.
Unlike most art museums, visitors take off their shoes at the entrance and change into slippers.
The paintings on the walls of the spacious exhibition rooms on the first through third floors are lavishly arranged with plenty of blank space.
Sofas and chairs are placed in one corner of the exhibition room, where visitors can sit and look at art collections and art books on the shelves, or draw or write at the desk.
The exhibition style is impressive, as if the space itself, including the interior, were itself a work of art.
Konishi Masayuki, son of the owner Konishi Masahide, says, "Although the main focus is on oil paintings and woodblock prints, we have arranged the museum so that visitors can see three-dimensional works, photographs, ceramics, furniture, literature, and other items as well." He also serves as curator and director of the museum.
You can stand in front of a painting for a long time or sit on a chair and gaze at a painting for a while.
It is a space where you can enjoy viewing paintings with greater freedom than in a large art museum.
The theme of the exhibitions as well as the methods used to display them are unique.
The themes include, "What we feel with our eyes closed," "What is sensation?" and "Photographic experience of paintings."
It is hard to imagine what kind of works will be introduced, which makes it all the more interesting.
The first exhibition of 2023 is "The Wonderful World of Legs".
How on earth do they come up with these ideas?
Director Konishi says, "I want to create a place that sheds light on the collection. I have many ideas for exhibitions. However, I am careful not to be too specific about the theme, because there is a danger of imposing the theme on the works."
Some works may be borrowed to match the theme of the exhibition, but most of the works are from the collection of the art museum.
In addition to the owner's collection of Japanese figurative Western-style paintings and woodblock prints, there are also a number of contemporary art works that Masayuki has purchased since becoming curator.
The total number of works is more than 5,000. While many of the works are by well-known artists, he has also actively purchased works by artists who are not well known or by young artists whose reputations have not yet been established.
He says, "I follow my father's philosophy of buying what I think is good, regardless of whether it is famous or not."
Rather than following the trends of the times, he adds to his collection in search of timeless values such as technique and creativity.
It seems an ideal environment for curators to be able to choose a theme, select works, and freely display them in such a large space.
He said, "An exhibition is always about reexamining a work of art in a new context. I believe it is the curator's job to help bring out the potential of the works."
The museum became an incorporated foundation in 2010. It is now operated by donations from the Hokubu Group companies.
Director Konishi said, "This is an unprofitable business, so I don't know how long we can continue it. We would like to continue our efforts to increase the number of local patrons and repeat visitors through steady research and planning."
Digital archiving of the works is also underway for the future. Matsui Hiroki, a photographer who works as an assistant curator, is in charge of photographing the works. The two do everything together, including changing the exhibits, making flyers, and cleaning the bathrooms.
HOKUBU Memorial Picture Museum
Asahi-machi 1-1-36, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Open: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the exhibition period (only Saturdays and Sundays in winter)
Hours: 10:00-17:00 (Fridays and Sundays by reservation by the hour only)
700 yen on Thursdays and Saturdays
800 yen on Fridays and Sundays (reservation required)