John Riepenhoff 5 Q
It’s not easy being green, which is why John Riepenhoff, owner and curator of the Green Gallery, established the third-floor Riverwest venue expressly for fresh, emerging artists in 2004. An art school graduate and painter himself, the now-25-year-old could relate.
Riepenhoff is interested in social interaction between artists of all media. The space currently hosts a monthly Movie & Masala night for neighborhood filmmakers and sponsors a culturally conscious residency program to align local and global artists, launched by the Institute of Quotidian Arts and Letters this past spring. Between a hectic show opening and a weeklong trip to London’s Frieze Art Fair, John squeezed in our five questions. Keep up with him at thegreengallery.tk.
What paved your way from art student to gallery owner/curator?
Even as a student, I would question for what and for whom art was made, so exploring the gateway from the artist’s hands to the public arena was a natural progression. Running a low-maintenance space — using a model similar to DIY rock house venues — eased my start, and the playfulness of the artists I exhibited directly elevated the gallery. The more artists and gallerists I met locally and nationally, the more I realized the significance of the Milwaukee art community; that still motivates me to continue the Green Gallery project, and to experiment with methods of showcasing art and encouraging local artists.
How do your personal tastes and values guide the Green Gallery cut?
The artists who show are ones that surprise me; they are making art that says “things are exciting right now” in a new way, or they are creating interesting situations that don’t yet have a venue but should. They are commenting on the conditions of art and popular culture in a way similar to a writer by critiquing aspects of experience and history, and by offering some alternatives. I like these traits in people, too. I like the meta.
What are the highs and lows of your role?
I get to meet so many creative and amazing individuals, and get to be a part of their lives. Some of my all-time favorite artists are real people that I helped reach a broader audience! Supporting and empowering artists by stimulating discussion and exposing their ideas to receptive audiences is a real high. Building, sanding, painting, cleaning and fixing the space are all of the lows that make the highs feel better-deserved.
In Milwaukee, people can find time for their own projects without having to pay inflated rent that many of the (other) art centers around the country indoctrinate. The art community here is small enough that one can find help for his or her projects in friends and acquaintances, as well as find other projects that might be a perfect showcase of her or his talent. I like to think that we Milwaukeeans can commit to our own personal voices without being distracted by the pettiness of mainstream art movements. This can be either a really good or really bad thing, but is interesting both ways!
How has your work already contributed to the local art community, and what do you still hope to achieve?
So many people like art and there are so many niches to fill. I’d like to see more art spaces in the city than churches or bars. Hopefully, I’ve helped some people access art and an audience. People should know that even if you aren’t an artist or an art historian, you still have a huge impact on the meaning of art. By thinking about culture and supporting artists, we are defining our city and helping it grow.